Part of the traditional content of British coronations, the texts for all four anthems were picked by Handel—a personal selection from the most accessible account of an earlier coronation, that of James II in 1685. The text is derived from the biblical account of the anointing of Solomon. These words have been used in every English, and later British, coronation since that of King Edgar at Bath Abbey in 973.
After 1 Kings 1:38–40
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,
Zadok the Priest is written for SS-AA-T-BB chorus and orchestra (two oboes, two bassoons, three trumpets, timpani, strings, continuo). The music prepares a surprise in its orchestral introduction through the use of static layering of soft string textures followed by a sudden rousing forte tutti entrance, augmented by three trumpets.
The middle section "And all the people rejoic'd, and said" is an imitatory dance in 3/4 time, with the choir singing chordally and a dotted rhythm in the strings.
The final section "God save the King", etc is a return to common time (4/4), with the "God save the King" section heard chordally, interspersed with the Amens incorporating long semiquaver runs, taken in turn through the six voice parts (SAATBB) with the other parts singing quaver chords accompanying it. The chorus ends with a largo plagal cadence on "Allelujah".
More pieces by Handel
- 'For unto us a child is born', Messiah
- 'Zadok the Priest' from Coronation Anthems
- Arrival of the Queen of Sheba