Mystery Music March in April

Zadok The Priest -- George Frideric Handel

Only the best classical pieces can drag themselves unscathed from being eviscerated and used in a hundred finance commercials and being selected as one of Tara Palmer Tompkinson’s top five classical pieces but Zadok has that ability. Composed in 1727 for the coronation of George II of Great Britain its been a repeat fixture in every subsequent ceremony including the one attended by our current monarch. As with a certain percentage of choral music, it’s not lyrically complex, with Handel paraphrasing 1 Kings 1:38–40, no doubt because it includes a line which could be belt out to venerate the new king:

“Zadok, the Priest and Nathan, the Prophet anointed Solomon King.
And all the people rejoic'd, and said:
'God save The King, long live The King, may The King live for ever!
Amen Hallelujah!"

I know what that sounds like because I’ve actually sang it for the Queen on the occasion of her fortieth year as monarch It was my next to final year of secondary school and someone decided it would be good idea to fill the Anglican Cathedral with school kids and have them sing Handel very loudly, whilst oddly other kids offered a martial arts demonstration. We practiced solidly for two weeks, frequently after school and on the day the big church looked a treat, and even though we had all rehearsed separately, the collective sound was suitably epic. Even the anti-royalists amongst us were excited about meeting her majesty. But she was clearly having a very busy day and didn’t have time to stop and listen, passing by on her way to the altar.

It is a great piece to sing. As well as the slightly bonkers out of context second line ‘Nathan, the Prophet anointed Solomon King’ (which makes him sound like a sidekick) it's replete with lengthy vowel sounds and even for us basses a chance to project, not simply provide background for the vocal stylings of the sopranos. Co-incidentally, the best recording I have is from ten years later when a special Prom was held at Buckingham Palace in which the crowd cheer with the onset of the opening few bars played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Sir Andrew Davis), the vocals provided by the BBC Symphony Chorus. My memory of our attempt is faulty but my fantasy is that despite our schoolchild voices it was good as this and greeted by the same sea of applause at the conclusion.

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