George Frideric Handel
The German-born supreme master of English Baroque composition served German-born kings of Great Britain.
Portrait by Balthasar Denner, 1733
George Frideric Handel
Zadok the Priest (HWV 258, 1727)
Dettingen Te Deum (HWV 283, 1743)
“It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force of assertion. ... Handel has this power.”
“Handel is not a mere composer in England: he is an institution. What is more, he is a sacred institution.”
— George Bernard Shaw
Few composers achieve the status of a Beethoven, Mozart, or Haydn. Fewer achieve the status of George Frideric Handel.
Handel was prolific, composing a stream of operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos throughout a long career. He was a wealthy businessman, founding three commercial opera companies. He was a large man, corpulent later in life after years of living well, and was among the most famous people of his time. Born and raised in Germany, he became a naturalized British citizen in 1727 by an act of Parliament and was buried in Westminster Abbey after a full state funeral. As Joseph Haydn put it, weeping after hearing the Hallelujah Chorus, “He is the master of us all.”
Coronation Anthem No. 1: Zadok the Priest
Handel’s Zadok the Priest has been sung at every British coronation since George II in 1727, but the Zadok text has a far longer history. The words, not necessarily sung, have been part of English, then British, coronations since King Edgar at Bath Abbey in 973, the earliest coronation for which a description of the order of service survives. The Latin antiphon Unxerunt Salomonem, in use at the time, presents the anointing of King Solomon by Zadok and Nathan (I Kings 1:39) and is likely much older.
Handel’s history with the British royal household began during his early career in Germany. In 1710 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Georg, Elector of Hanover, who became Britain’s King George I in 1714. By then, Handel had settled permanently in London. Although he had been appointed “Composer of Musick for His Majesty’s Chappel Royal” in 1723, protocol directed that William Croft, organist, composer, and master of the Children of Chapel Royal, should compose coronation anthems for the new king after George I died in 1727. Croft’s own death, however, in mid-August less than two months before the coronation, made composition of four anthems a matter of urgency. George II decided on Handel.
Handel began composing the four coronation anthems in early September, including My Heart is Inditing, sung during the ceremony for Queen Caroline’s coronation. Zadok, a very dramatic composition, became among the best-known of Handel’s works. It begins with soft, stately arpeggios by the strings, building gradually toward a seven-part forte entrance of the chorus — which, for the première on October 11, 1727, included a powerful vocal force of choirs from the Chapel Royal, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and St. Georges’s Chapel, Windsor.
Te Deum for the Victory of Dettingen
George II at Dettingen
Painting by John Wootton (1682-1764)
George II, like his father, was born and raised in Germany and retained the titles of Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire. As the last foreign-born British king, George II spent 12 summers in Hanover, which did nothing to improve his diffident, distant relations with his British subjects.
In his student years, George had been interested in military arts, history, and battle tactics and gained direct military experience in his mid-twenties by leading charges of the Hanoverian cavalry against the French in the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708). Six years later, he was in England as Prince of Wales.
In June 1743, the 16th year of his reign, George II led British and German forces against the French at Dettingen am Main during the Austrian War of Succession, making him the last British king to lead troops in battle. It was a decisive victory, and the news was enthusiastically received in England. Handel, who had continued as court composer since his appointment in 1723, was commissioned to prepare a ceremonial Te Deum for the king’s return, which would help secure the triumphant monarch’s place in history. It received its première on November 27, 1743, before the king during Sunday morning services in the Chapel of St. James’s Palace.
The Te Deum, after the Latin Te Deum laudamus (We praise thee, o God), is among the oldest Christian hymns, dating to the fourth century. It remains in common use today. Unlike the Agnus Dei and other ancient texts, it has also found important ceremonial uses outside the liturgical setting. Handel’s setting, with plenty of grand fanfares and martial flourishes, favors the ceremonial. Benedikt Poensgen, who edited the score used for this concert, has written that the work “represents a musical monument of the historic Battle of Dettingen and, like no other work, connects the unloved ruler with his country to the present day.”
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, alleluia.
Te Deum for the Victory of Dettingen
Translation of the Latin text by Francesco Antonio Urio
We praise Thee, o God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
II. (Alto, Tenor and Chorus)
All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting.
To Thee all angels cry aloud, the heav’ns and all the pow’rs therein.
To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heav’n and earth are full of the majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praise Thee; the goodly fellowship of the prophets praise Thee; the noble army of martyrs praise Thee. The holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee, the Father of an infinite majesty; Thine honorable, true and only Son; also the Holy Ghost, the comforter.
VI. (Bass and Chorus)
Thou art the King of Glory, o Christ, Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man, Thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
IX. (Chorus, ATB)
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father. We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
X. (Fanfare and Chorus)
We therefore pray Thee: Help Thy servants, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. O Lord, save Thy people and bless thine heritage. Govern them and lift them up forever.
Day by day we magnify Thee and we worship Thy name ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, o Lord, to keep us this day without sin. O Lord, have mercy upon us. Let Thy mercy lighten upon us, as our trust is in Thee.
XIV. (Alto and Chorus)
O Lord, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded.