Handel’s Royal Anthems
Handel and his music were very much present in Royal occasions in the 18th century. He created strong ties with the Royal family, and he was commissioned to compose music for various royal celebrations, including coronations. He was also hired by the royal family to teach the princesses to play the harpsichord.
When Handel moved to London, he was granted a Royal pension of £200 per annum by Queen Anne in December 1713, and this was continued when the Elector of Hanover became King George I of England in August 1714. The coronation of King George I was the beginning of an era which shaped the British Empire and nurtured a vibrant cultural exchange in the arts, science and politics.
Many composers have written pieces to celebrate coronations. Handel, a freshly British naturalized citizen, was commissioned to write music for the coronation of George II in 1727, 295 years ago. The means put towards the musical arrangements were not short of spectacular, with an orchestra that reached around 160 people. Handel was known for tailoring his music to musicians as well as venues, and the grandness of Westminster Abbey and the occasion demanded a huge number of voices and instruments.
The four anthems reached tremendous success and were widely performed during Handel’s lifetime, and after his death in 1759. The anthems are still used to this day in British coronations and HM Queen Elizabeth II was anointed as the choir sang Zadok the Priest during her coronation in 1953.
Handel also wrote music for other Royal occasions. He was commissioned by George I to compose a piece for an outdoor concert that was to take place on the Thames and in 1717, Water Music premiered in London. In 1749, Handel was commissioned by George II to write an instrumental suite for the royal fireworks in Hyde Park, London. Handel’s composition, Music for the Royal Fireworks was a success but the event turned to chaos when the wooden structure caught fire.
Some of our wonderful musicians have shared their renditions of Royal anthems to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee: