Fewer pieces of music have become more closely related to British coronations than ‘Zadok the Priest.’
However, the anthem was composed relatively recently in the history of coronations in Britain.
‘Zadok the Priest’ was composed by German composer George Frederic Handel. Handel was a German Baroque composer that spent much of his career in Britain and became a naturalised British citizen in 1727. Upon his death in 1759, he was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey.
Handel wrote the piece for King George II’s 1727 coronation. The new king was born in Hanover and lived in Germany until 1714, when he and his father sailed for England upon Queen Anne’s death; so it is fitting that he turned to a German composer.
The lyrics for ‘Zadok’ draw on a particular Biblical passage based on a translation of 1 Kings 1: 38-40. This passage details a historic coronation where Zadok the Priest anoints King Solomon. (This is why the lyrics do not change based on the gender of the monarch, as the King in reference is Solomon.)
The lyrics of the piece are:
“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 for ever. Amen. Hallelujah.”
This coronation anthem has been performed at every British coronation since that of George II. It was also played at the 2004 wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Mary Donaldson.
Handel worked closely with the British Royal Family. He composed a wedding anthem for Princess Anne for her 1734 wedding. At Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s 1981 wedding, ‘Let the Bright Seraphim” from Handel’s Samson.
Those in the Abbey and those watching from elsewhere on 6 May will hear ‘Zadok the Priest,’ as well other traditional hymns and twelve new compositions.