Handel’s prominence in British cultural life had been consolidated in February 1727 by the inclusion of his name in the Naturalization Act passed by George I shortly before the king’s death at Osnabrück (on the way to visit Hanover, which the monarch much preferred to London). The composer’s decision to become officially British fortunately granted him the legitimate status to provide four new anthems for the coronation service of King George II and Queen Caroline at Westminster Abbey on 11 October 1727. The most famous of the four newly composed pieces for the occasion is ‘Zadok the Priest’ (HWV258). Its text is paraphrased from 1 Kings 1: 38–40, and it has been performed at every subsequent British coronation. Handel presumably relished the opportunity to write grand ceremonial music for much larger forces than were available in the theatre (an eyewitness of the rehearsal claims that there were 40 singers and 160 players), but it seems that the musical contributions to the coronation service were far from smooth. The position of different groups of performers in galleries where they could not see each other left them at the mercy of the building’s notoriously tricky acoustic, and William Wake, the Archbishop of Canterbury, annotated on his copy of the printed order of service that another of Handel’s anthems (‘The King shall Rejoice’) was ‘in Confusion: All irregular in the Music’.
It is unlikely that Handel ever performed with such a large choir again. Although all four coronation anthems were incorporated into his theatre oratorios during the early 1730s, his usual choir for such concerts was about half the size of the forces that had been specially amassed for an event of iconic national importance.
from notes by David Vickers © 2008