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Hyperion Records

CDA67286 - The Coronation of King George II

Recording details: February 2001
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: October 2001
DISCID: C2099F10 360DFE17
Total duration: 100 minutes 22 seconds


'Vividly atmospheric' (The Guardian)

'A reconstruction, complete with a plethora of fanfares, drum processions, schoolboys shouting 'Vivat Rex!', and a great deal of bell clanging … all of it impressive music, well played and sung, and vivdly recorded' (The Sunday Times)

'Robert King’s magical history tour of Hanoverian London brings life to contemporary accounts of the coronation of George II. Outstanding accounts of Handel’s Coronation Anthems and a joyful reading of Purcell’s I was glad … a powerful experience' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The whole experience of listening repeatedly to this restaged coronation has been deeply satisfying and indeed moving. It is not like hearing a recording. You were there – it is as simple, and as wonderful, as that' (Fanfare, USA)

'Throughout the performances find King and his outstanding musicians at their most vibrant and dynamic, with choral and instrumental contributions that resoundlingly capture the splendour of the occasion' (Goldberg)

The Coronation of King George II
Bells  [0'49]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'39]
Drums  [1'32]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'26]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'14]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'27]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'25]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'27]
Drums  [0'21]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'24]
Trumpet fanfare  [0'12]  
Trumpet fanfare  [0'36]
Drums  [1'25]
Bells  [2'29]

Crowning The King's Consort's celebrations of its twenty-first birthday and its millionth CD sale for Hyperion, comes a truly spectacular reconstruction, that of the Coronation of King George II in Westminster Abbey in 1727. Complete with ringing trumpet fanfares sounding from all corners of the venue, dramatic drum processions up and down the aisles, shouts of acclamation from a huge cast, pealing church bells (especially recorded at historic churches and cathedrals across England and Wales), and some of the greatest of all ceremonial music, this two-for-the-price-of-one disc is a spectacular musical and sonic tour-de-force.

The music is fronted by Handel's four great Coronation Anthems, including Zadok the Priest (so striking at its first 1727 hearing that it has been performed at every Coronation ever since), alongside splendid coronation music by Henry Purcell, John Blow, William Child, John Farmer, Thomas Tallis and Orlando Gibbons.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Hanoverian King of England George I died on 11 June 1727 whilst on his way back to his native Germany. His only son was proclaimed king three days later by the Privy Council. Every monarch since William the Conqueror had been crowned at Westminster Abbey, in a tradition stretching back to 1066. To crown England’s new King George II a magnificent coronation service full of pomp, ceremony and fine music was required.

The Privy Council met three days after the death of the king but, with a new monarch on the throne, there would have been many pressing matters of state to which to attend. So it was nearly two months later, on 11 August, that the coronation was first officially discussed. October 4th was proclaimed as the date for the service. More detailed discussion was probably limited because the Archbishop of Canterbury was away, convalescing from illness in Tunbridge Wells. In his absence, it seems likely that the Lord Chamberlain and the Dean of the Chapel Royal, Edmund Gibson (also Bishop of London), took it upon themselves to make the practical arrangements.

Much of the music to be performed would, following established tradition, have been taken from that performed at previous coronations. The commissioning of any new compositions for the service would normally have been entrusted to the Organist and Composer of the Chapel Royal, but disaster struck when, on 14 August, the incumbent of that post, William Croft, died. On 18 August the Bishop of Salisbury recommended that Maurice Greene succeed, but his appointment was not officially confirmed until 4 September, by which time arrangements for the coronation would have been well under way. In any case, it seems that the king had already made up his own mind, and on 9 September the newspapers announced that ‘Mr Hendel, the famous Composer to the opera, is appointed by the King to compose the Anthem at the Coronation which is to be sung in Westminster Abbey at the Grand Ceremony’. Handel seems actually to have been commissioned to write not one, but four new anthems for the occasion. He would have had to begin work immediately.

All the parties looked back to previous coronations for their precedents, both musical and liturgical. On the possible form for the service, the archbishop wrote from his convalescence to the council explaining: ‘Before I left Lambeth, I got into my hands the Original Book of Archbishop Sancroft, all written by Himselfe, by wch He Crown’d King James & Queen Mary … But the King’s Religion obliged Him to omit the whole Communion Service … My immediate predecessor Archbp Tenison, who Crown’d both Q Anne and his late Matie King George, took great pains to settle this Office in a better method than had ever been done before: and indeed he has succeeded so well in it, that in my Opinion a better form cannot be framed for the Coronation of His Majestie. But in that there is nothing of the Queen’s Coronation: That part of the Office therefore may with very little change of some expressions be taken out of Sancroft’s form.’

These suggestions do not seem have been passed to Handel who, without firm indications from the bishops, turned to the most complete account he could find, the excellently detailed description by Sandford of the 1685 coronation of James II. On 5 September Archbishop Wake proposed his own order of service to the Privy Council committee now dealing with the arrangements. But he still could not finally make up his mind about some of the finer details of the Investitures – or perhaps the committee did not agree with him – and took his order away yet again to reconsider. Only on 20 September was an order of service agreed, based largely on the 1714 coronation of Queen Anne. At the same time it was announced that the coronation was to be postponed for a week as high tides were now predicted to flood Westminster Hall on the chosen date. The archbishop was instructed ‘that One Hundred Copies be printed forthwith, fifty whereof are to be delivered for the use of the Lords of His Majesty’s most honourable Privy Council and the other Fifty, for the Service of those who are to officiate at the Abbey’. Presumably the congregation of more than a thousand were to receive no service paper. They would, were they to have read Parker’s Penny Post dated 4 October, have learned that: ‘Mr Hendle has composed the Musick for the Abbey at the Coronation, and the Italian Voices, with above a Hundred of the best Musicians will perform; and the Whole is allowed by those Judges in Musick who have already heard it, to exceed any Thing heretofore of the same Kind: It will be rehearsed this Week, but the Time will be kept private, lest the Crowd of People should be an obstruction to the Performers.’

By the end of September Handel had clearly finished his new compositions. Predictably, with no instructions apparently passed to him (or perhaps they were conveniently ignored), the results come the day of the coronation were delightfully confused. The printed order at times bore little relation to what actually took place. Handel’s texts in his own anthems did not match what was printed in the service paper; several anthems were performed at different positions in the service to those officially sanctioned, and some pieces meant to be set to music apparently were not, and vice versa. The actual musical performances too suffered from more than a degree of disorganization. Archbishop Wake, perhaps miffed because he felt Handel had hijacked the order of service, wrote a series of caustic comments in the margin of his own service paper, commencing with ‘No Anthem at all Sung … by the Negligence of the Choir of Westminster’ and against Handel’s first anthem was marked the terse comment: ‘The Anthem all in confusion: All irregular in the Music’. The lack of musical coordination on the day cannot have been helped by the performers’ being placed on two specially built platforms on either side of the abbey, their views interrupted by the altar. To make matters worse, five of the ten boys from the Chapel Royal choir had left with broken voices in June and such was the duplication of adult jobs between the two musical establishments that only one singer from the abbey was not accounted for from within the ranks of the Chapel Royal choir.

There is no indisputable record of exactly where in the coronation each piece was performed. Wake’s order of service, and his catty remarks, give us useful guidance: the Clerk of the Cheque’s account of the service contradicts some of this, but usefully tells us that the introductory anthem O Lord, grant the King a long life was performed in the setting by William Child, and the Te Deum was sung in one of Orlando Gibbons’s settings (though the Clerk’s order, written after the service, may only be an official record of what was intended to be performed). The confirmation of these two pieces does firmly indicate that the authorities had followed tradition in returning to settings of the past for several important musical sections of the service, searching through the abbey and Chapel Royal libraries for what was still in stock from previous coronations. So it is from a collation of all this information, with its mixture of ‘old’ music from the greatest English composers of the previous hundred years with the latest, fashionable music of Handel at his most stately and spectacular, that we form our reconstruction of this most splendid, and magnificently British, pageant.

Compact Disc 1
Final preparations for the coronation day start early in Westminster Abbey. The last items are placed in their positions: the ampulla is filled with oil, and laid on the altar with its ceremonial spoon. The congregation of the great and the good take their seats, filling every corner of this most impressive of Gothic abbeys. Special galleries have been constructed to add extra seats. Our listening position is that of a privileged attendee, placed near the altar at the east end of the abbey: the preparations at the west door, some hundred metres down the nave, thus are heard in the distance. Looking upwards we see the astonishing vaulted ceiling, the highest in England, stretching 31 metres above us. Outside, the architecture of the west end is markedly different to that we know today, for the two west towers which greet today’s royalty were only added by Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1735 and 1740.

The archbishops and bishops, wearing their ceremonial copes, form their procession outside the west door of the abbey whilst they await the arrival by carriage of King George and Queen Caroline. As they stand alongside the dean and prebendaries of Westminster, the king and queen’s own clergy and the choirs of both the abbey and the Chapel Royal, the abbey’s great bell tolls, symbolically calling the congregation to the ceremony and announcing to the crowds outside that the solemn service is shortly to begin. The royal procession is announced to the congregation by the first of many trumpet fanfares, sounded by trumpeters of the Royal Household standing at both sides of the abbey’s west end: the fanfare is followed by ceremonial drummers in procession. The young Scholars of Westminster School had been granted the right by King James II in 1685 to greet the new monarch as he enters the Abbey. They now greet him with their privileged shout: being scholars, they are the only people to do so in Latin. Another trumpet fanfare sounds as a preface to the introit, performed by the combined choirs of the abbey and the Chapel Royal at the west door. In his capacity first as organist at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and subsequently as one of the musicians at the Chapel Royal, William Child (1606–1697) had been organist at three coronations during the previous century: those of Charles II, James II and William and Mary. His four-part anthem O Lord, grant the King a long life was probably written for the coronation of Charles II, held in Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. Simple in style, largely homophonic, it alternates the closing section between decani and cantoris, the two ‘sides’ of the choir, before they join together in one final ‘Halleluia’.

The clergy and choir process up the aisle through the vast congregation whilst the orchestra plays Handel’s Grand Instrumental Procession, later used as the stirring overture to The Occasional Oratorio. Archbishop Wake noted that the anthem scheduled in the service paper to greet the king and queen on their arrival at their seats ‘was omitted and no anthem at all sung … by the Negligence of the Choir of Westminster’, but Jonathan Smith recorded that I was glad when they said unto me was sung in a ‘full anthem’. Henry Purcell (1659–1695), himself of course a former organist of Westminster Abbey, had written a fine setting of this text, from Psalm 122, for the opulent coronation of King James II in 1685. The anthem was almost certainly still in the abbey library – though perhaps already wrongly ascribed, as it was to remain for many years, to John Blow. Its rich five-part harmony, joyful dotted figurations, supplicatory central section and exultant Gloria, complete with a series of compositional devices of increasing ingenuity, would have made it a perfect choice for the occasion.

During this anthem the king and queen pass through the main body of the abbey, on through the choir, and up the steps to their positions at the east end where they sit in chairs placed in front of, and below, the two thrones. They make their private devotions. After the anthem is finished, the archbishop (accompanied by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord High Constable and Earl Marshal) presents the new king to the people, asking if they are willing to pay their homage to their monarch. The archbishop is answered first by the assembled bishops, and then by the peers and nobles, who ‘signify their willingness and joy, by loud and repeated acclamations, all with one voice crying out “God save King George”’. Again, the trumpets sound a fanfare in a royal salute.

At this point Archbishop Wake expected Handel’s new setting of The King shall rejoice, but was mightily put out (penning ‘the Anthem in Confusion’) when the choir and orchestra actually performed Let thy hand be strengthened. The smallest-scaled of Handel’s four new anthems, with a scoring which required no trumpets or timpani, Handel’s text was well suited for this point in the service: its purposeful, positive opening movement contrasts with the gloriously eloquent middle movement ‘Let justice and judgement’ before the fine concluding ‘Alleluia’.

During the anthem, the Bible, paten and chalice are carried to the altar by three bishops, a procession of noblemen carry the regalia to the archbishop, who in turn hands them to the Dean of Westminster who places them on the altar. Meanwhile the king and queen move to their faldstools – the two movable prayer desks at which they will kneel during the singing of the litany.

For the singing of the litany, performed in the glorious setting by the former Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, Thomas Tallis (c1505–1585), a bishop, wearing his cope, kneels at a faldstool above the steps of the theatre. Tallis’s sublime responses to the priest’s intonations are haunting in their simplicity. (For this recording the full litany has been shortened.)

The anointing of the monarch by the archbishop is prefaced by the singing of one of the most ancient of all hymns, ‘Veni Creator spiritus’ (‘Come Holy Ghost’). The melody is by John Farmer (fl1591–1601), one of the most prolific contributors to East’s Psalter (1592), and a composer whose settings of the Responses and Lord’s Prayer are still familiar entries on the service papers of many cathedrals. In true Anglican tradition the whole congregation of the abbey joins in.

That rousing hymn is followed by a work that has never been eclipsed as the greatest of all coronation compositions, the only one to have been repeated at every subsequent crowing of a British monarch: Handel’s extraordinary setting of the Old Testament text from the First Book of Kings, Zadok the Priest. Its opening instrumental prelude, commencing with a whispering arpeggionic piano, is brilliantly orchestrated to create one of the most inexorable crescendos of the whole canon of western music. The blinding power of the first chorus entry after that compelling opening must have raised the hairs on every neck in the abbey. In the two following sections Handel is at his most regally ceremonial.

Compact Disc 2
The king has been anointed on his head, breast and hands, and presented in a series of spoken ceremonies with the spurs, sword, robe and orb of state. His Investiture is prefaced by the presentation of two further tokens, a ring for the fourth finger of his right hand, and two sceptres, one with a dove, the other with a cross, placed respectively in his left and right hands. His Investiture is celebrated by a trumpet fanfare, the solemnity of the moment enhanced by the addition of timpani. The choir sing the anthem by John Blow (1649–1708), Behold, O God our defender, originally written for the coronation of the Catholic King James II in 1685, and performed again, four years later, at the coronation of William and Mary. For this latter occasion Blow substantially revised his earlier composition. This shorter version seems to be the one more likely to have been on the abbey music shelves.

The archbishop, standing in front of the abbey’s altar, takes up the crown and blesses it. Assisted by the other bishops and by the Dean of Westminster, the archbishop crowns King George. A trumpet fanfare rings out, the peers and Kings of Arms put on their own coronets, and the entire congregation in the abbey, in a thrilling moment, ‘with loud and repeated shouts’ acclaim their new monarch.

Handel’s anthem The King shall rejoice is suitably celebratory, its opening movement permeated by ringing trumpet fanfares. The lyrical second movement, ‘Exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation’, is set in a gently swinging triple metre: the respite it brings is replaced by grandeur at ‘Glory and worship’. ‘Thou hast prevented him’ incorporates both lyricism in its triple time and solemnity in its solid block chords before the movement ends with a ringing ‘Alleluia’, complete with soaring soprano lines and a dramatic pause before the final statement.

The archbishop presents the king with a Holy Bible, signifying wisdom and law, and then blesses?him. Once the king is returned to his seat, the choir sing the Te Deum. We know from the New Cheque Book that the setting chosen was by another former organist of the Chapel Royal, Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625). By far his finest setting is that contained in his Second Service, which incorporates glorious word-painting, especially into its sections of verse (solo) writing. The setting is notable not only for its moments of grandeur, but also for the more personal sections of the text, which Gibbons treats with especial sensitivity.

Space for such introspection is necessarily short-lived in a coronation, and as the Te Deum ends the king is lifted into his throne by the bishops and peers, and surrounded by all the ‘Great Officers’ and nobles. A fanfare celebrates the Inthronisation and the peers present pay their homage ‘publicly and solemnly unto the King’, kneeling before their monarch. As they do so, the choir sing an anthem, which had been a new introduction by Sancroft at the 1685 coronation of James II. For that occasion John Blow had written arguably his finest large-scale sacred work, based on a text from Psalm 89, God spake sometime in visions. On that occasion, whilst the choir had sung, the Treasurer of the King’s Household, attended by Garter and Black Rod, had scattered the King’s Largesse, in the form of silver and gold medals, amongst the people. Blow’s anthem had clearly been one of an agreed pair: for the same 1685 coronation Purcell had written a similarly large-scale setting, My heart is inditing, also scored for strings and eight-part choir. Even the internal distribution of the voices between the two pieces was the same: to complete the collusion between the two friends, both had repeated their respective opening orchestral symphonies at the mid-point. Blow’s anthem is at least the equal of Purcell’s, showing a sumptuous mastery of the available vocal and instrumental textures: if Blow’s verse-writing does not possess quite the same individuality as Purcell’s, his writing in the tuttis is perhaps even finer. The manner in which Blow re-introduces the music of the opening Symphony, first in the voices (at ‘higher than the kings of the earth’), and then melding in the orchestra, is glorious. Wonderful too is the climax of the final verse section ‘and his throne as the days of heaven’, which leads into an inexorably, elegantly swinging ‘Alleluia’.

At the end of the anthem comes another thrilling moment for the full congregation. The instructions are simple: ‘The drums beat, and the Trumpets sound, and all the People shout, crying out: God save King George. Long live King George. May the King live for ever!’.

The king is now crowned. The queen, who has sat silently through the ceremony so far, must be anointed, given a ring, and then her crown, sceptre and ivory rod. Handel’s final offering for the service took the traditional text for the coronation of a queen, My heart is inditing. No less spacious in construction than his musical offerings for the king, Handel nonetheless pays homage to the queen’s more gentle nature, reserving the entries of the full choir, trumpets and timpani until the mid-point of the first movement. The second movement, ‘Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women’ is set over a gently ‘walking’ bass, its opening vocal bars symbolically involving only the upper voices of the choir. There is instrumental and vocal luxury at ‘Upon thy right hand did stand the Queen in vesture of gold’, with especial emphasis paid to the king’s having ‘pleasure in thy beauty’. King and queen feature alternately in the final movement, with a masculine, forthrightly stepping motif for ‘Kings shall be thy nursing fathers’, and a more domestic counter-motif for ‘and queens thy nursing mothers’ before the stateliness of the occasion reasserts itself, the trumpets and drums enter, and the anthem ends in a blaze of Handelian glory.

After such rousing settings, the Communion service that follows is largely spoken, and musically unremarkable: instructions include ‘During ye Offertory the Organ plays, till the Alms are done Collecting’. But as soon as the final ‘Amen’ is uttered, the king and queen replace their crowns, take up their sceptres again and return to their thrones for the final pageantry of the occasion. The traditional trumpet call ‘Draw Swords’ sounds. The king and queen are led into St Edward’s Chapel, where they put on their royal robes, made of purple velvet. They are led in procession down the aisle to a stirring March by Handel, through the crowds of peers and into the main body of the abbey; as they approach the west door the trumpeters sound the command ‘Return Swords’ and the procession leads them back towards the outside world. As the abbey’s great doors are thrown open, the king and his queen are greeted not only by the pealing of the bells of Westminster Abbey but, on that signal, by the extraordinary sound of the combined bells of all the churches of London, joyfully celebrating this most glorious of coronations.

Robert King © 2001

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