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The most famous of Handel's coronation anthems was composed for King George II of England in 1727 and has been performed at every coronation since then.
Handel composed his four coronation anthems between September and October 1727, producing some of the most spine-tingling choral music of the Baroque period. Zadok the Priest, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice, and My Heart Is Inditing were written as four separate pieces, but are now often published as a collection.
Zadok the Priest is by far the most popular of the four. Its adrenaline rush of an introduction, with its teasing promise of release only to start again, is only a warm-up for what is to come. As the regal strings build, it's still a surprise when the trumpets and choir burst onto the scene with their triumphant outpouring of joy, gradually climaxing in a full six-part choir singing 'God save the King!' and a flurry of semiquavers over the word 'Alleluia'.
Handel's compositional skill is obvious; just listen to the ceremonial style, the soft strings, the brash timpani, and the full-blown choral ecstasy. It's especially apparent in comparison to the Music for the Royal Fireworks or the Water Music, both designed for open air performance. Both are exuberant and regal, but Zadok has moments of intricate delicacy that would only get lost in an outdoor performance. It's no wonder it's the first piece we ever played on Classic FM.