by Susan Flantzer
© Unofficial Royalty 2023
Beginning with the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902, a music edition of the Order of Service was published. It is difficult to determine coronation music from the past. For most coronations before 1902, no detailed description of the music used has survived.
Below are two examples of music for two 17th-century coronations. Over the years, the texts of the coronation music became traditional and remained the same but were often set to music by different composers.
For the 1603 coronation of King James I and his wife Queen Anne, the music included the following, although it is unclear who wrote the music except for The King Shall Rejoice which is generally attributed to Thomas Tomkins:
- Processional: Behold, Our Lord and Protector
- After the Recognition: Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened
- During the Anointing: Veni Creator Spiritus and Zadok the Priest
- After the Crowning: Be Strong and of Good Courage and The King Shall Rejoice
The following music was played at the 1685 Coronation of King James II and his second wife Maria Beatrice of Modena, sometimes known as Queen Mary:
I Was Glad
I Was Glad, with text from Psalm 122, has been sung at the entrance of the monarch at every coronation since that of King Charles I in 1626.
Psalm 122 from the Book of Common Prayer:
I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built as a city: that is at unity in itself.
For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord: to testify unto Israel, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.
For there is the seat of judgement: even the seat of the house of David.
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls: and plenteousness within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes: I will wish thee prosperity.
Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God: I will seek to do thee good.
Several composers have set Psalm 122 to music:
Vivat Rex / Vivat Regina
At the coronation of every monarch since the coronation of King James II in 1685, the King’s (or Queen’s) Scholars of the Westminster School have had the privilege of acclaiming the monarch by shouting “Vivat” during the monarch’s procession from the Quire of Westminster Abbey towards the Coronation Theatre in front of the High Altar. The forty-eight King’s (or Queen’s) Scholars are the recipients of scholarships at Westminster School. In 2017, the first girls became (then) Queen’s Scholars, now King’s Scholars.
The Latin version of the monarch’s name is used so at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, she was greeted with “Vivat, Regina! / Vivat, Regina Elizabetha! / Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!” The Vivat Regina was incorporated into Sir Hubert Parry’s anthem I Was Glad.
The last three Queen Consorts were also acclaimed with their husbands: in 1902 King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra with “Vivat Regina Alexandra” and “Vivat Rex Edwardus”, in 1911 King George V and Queen Mary with “Vivat Regina Maria” and “Vivat Rex Georgius” and in 1937 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with “Vivat Regina Elizabetha” and “Vivat Rex Georgius”.
In the 1990 YouTube video below, Sir Charles Groves conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, and Choristers of Liverpool Cathedral, in I Was Glad by Sir Hubert Parry followed by the Vivat Regina. The concert is from the 150th birthday celebrations of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II.
Coronation Anthems of George Frederic Handel
Although many composers have written coronation anthems, the best known are the four coronation anthems composed by George Frederic Handel for the coronation of King George II and his wife Queen Caroline on October 11, 1727: Zadok the Priest, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice and My Heart Is Inditing.
George Frederic Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg, then part of Brandenburg-Prussia, now in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. Handel, a Baroque composer, is well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, concerti grossi, and organ concertos. He received his musical training in Halle and worked as a composer in Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712, where he spent the majority of his career. In 1723, Handel was appointed as Composer of Music for the Chapel Royal by King George I.
In February 1727, King George I arranged for Handel to become a British subject via the passing of Handel’s Naturalisation Act 1727. Five months later, King George I died and his son succeeded him as King George II. In 1727, Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the coronation of King George II. One of the anthems, Zadok the Priest, has been played at every British coronation ceremony since the coronation of King George II in 1727.
George Frederic Handel died on April 14, 1759, aged 74, at his home at 25 Brook Street in Mayfair, London, England. His funeral at Westminster Abbey was attended by more than three thousand people. Handel was given full state honors and was interred at Westminster Abbey in the south transept known as the Poets’ Corner.
Handel picked the texts for the four coronation anthems from the texts of music used at the coronation of King James II in 1685. His four coronation anthems were immediately popular and were regularly played in concerts during Handel’s life.
Zadok the Priest
Zadok the Priest is the most famous of the anthems and is every bit as rousing as Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from the oratorio The Messiah. The text of Zadok the Priest comes from the biblical account of the anointing of King Solomon of ancient Israel by Zadok, the High Priest of Israel, and the prophet Nathan, and the rejoicing of the Israelites. These words have been used in every English coronation since that of King Edgar the Peaceful at Bath Abbey in 973, and Handel’s setting has been used at every British coronation since 1727, traditionally performed just prior to the sovereign’s anointing.
From 1 Kings 1:34-45:
Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king.
And all the people rejoiced and said:
God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King!
May the King live forever. Amen. Hallelujah.
Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened
The text of Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened is from Psalm 89. It is divided into three parts: a cheerful light beginning, a melancholy, slow middle section, and a closing Alleluia part.
Let thy hand be strengthened and thy right hand be exalted.
Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat!
Let mercy and truth go before thy face.
Let justice, judgment, mercy and truth go before thy face.
The King Shall Rejoice
The text of The King Shall Rejoice is from Psalm 21. The first part is full of festive pomp and fanfares and uses the full force of the choir and orchestra. The second part is gentler, with no trumpets and drums. The third part opens radiantly, tells of the king’s coronation with a crown of pure gold, and ends in a fugue. The fourth part is a fugue with the instruments being added one by one. The fifth part is a double fugue, two melodies simultaneously played against each other right from the start, ending in a closing ‘Alleluia’ that was to be played at the precise moment the king was crowned.
The King shall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord.
Exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation.
Glory and great worship hast thou laid upon him.
Thou hast prevented him with the blessings of goodness
and hast set a crown of pure gold upon his head.
My Heart is Inditing
My Heart is Inditing uses a text developed by Henry Purcell for the 1685 coronation of King James II, consisting of verses from Psalm 45 and the Book of Isaiah (chapter 49, verse 23). It was originally sung at the end of the coronation of Queen Caroline, with adaptations to the text by Handel to make the words more appropriate for a queen.
My heart is inditing of a good matter:
I speak of the things which I have made unto the King.
Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women
Upon thy right hand did stand the Queen in vesture of gold
and the King shall have pleasure in thy beauty.
Kings shall be thy nursing fathers
and queens thy nursing mothers.
Music at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
May 1953: The choirboys of Westminster Abbey rehearsing for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
* indicates first performance
Orchestral music played before the service:
Music during the coronation:
Orchestral music after the service:
- March: Pomp and Circumstance Number 1 by Edward Elgar
- *Coronation March by Sir Arnold Bax
- March: Pomp and Circumstance Number 4 by Edward Elgar
Music at the Coronation of King Charles III
The music at the coronation of King Charles III, who was very much involved in the music selection, will feature twelve new orchestral, choral, and organ pieces commissioned for the coronation including a coronation anthem based on Psalm 98 by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd Webber.
One of the liturgical sections of the ceremony will be performed in Welsh in tribute to King Charles III’s long tenure as Prince of Wales. At King Charles III’s request, Greek Orthodox music will be included in tribute to his late father Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, born a Greek prince.
Other contemporary composers who wrote new music for King Charles III’s coronation include:
Tradition requires that the music of the following past composers be included:
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- Coronation Anthem (2023) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_anthem (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- Coronation Anthem – Handel’s Coronation Anthems (2023) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_anthem#Handel’s_coronation_anthems (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- Coronation of Charles III and Camilla (2023) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_of_Charles_III_and_Camilla (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- Dunn, Charlotte. (2023) Coronation Music at Westminster Abbey, The Royal Family. Available at: https://www.royal.uk/coronation-music-westminster-abbey (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- George Frideric Handel (2023) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Frideric_Handel (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- I Was Glad (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_was_glad (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- (no date) Music at the Coronation of English and British Kings and Queens. Available at: https://www.oremus.org/coronation/music/ (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
- Music Played at the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (no date). Available at: https://www.westminster-abbey.org/media/5250/elizabeth-ii-coronation-1953-music-full-list.pdf (Accessed: April 10, 2023).
- Strong, Roy. (2005, 2022) Coronation – A History of the British Monarchy. London: William Collins.
- Vivat! Westminster Scholars’ Role in the Coronation (no date) Westminster School Archive. Available at: http://archiveblog.westminster.org.uk/?p=504 (Accessed: April 9, 2023).