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A sense of occasion

The Coronation of King George II, 1727 -
reviewed by PETER DALE

'... pomp without pomposity, excitement without loss of dignity, and ... a sense of hushed awe.'

The Coronation of King George II. (p) 2001 Hyperion Records Ltd


The heart of this double album is Handel's four Coronation Anthems, but with a difference: here, they are set into the context of a reconstruction of all the music for the 1727 ceremony.

Then as now, the principle followed by the organisers was to commission some new music but, as if to confirm the legitimate succession of the new monarch into a dynastic continuity, also to use again the best from previous coronations. In the event, there seems to have been some confusion about precisely what Handel was expected to do by way of the provision of new music (Archbishop Wake was ill; the Privy Council was confused; and William Croft, organist of the Chapel Royal, had just died). The composer seems to have had something like three weeks in which to produce four new anthems ... and then a further week's grace because high tides were expected to flood Westminster Hall on the day originally fixed for the coronation. The service would have been more involved than usual because it had to incorporate the crowning of a queen as well as of the new king, and Handel would have had to provide for that. The result [listen -- disc 2 track 17, 0:00-1:03] was My Heart is Inditing, perhaps the most interesting of all the four anthems because it manages marvellously to combine both splendour and magnificence in its outer movements but without resort to the martial pomp traditionally appropriated to a male monarch, and then something much gentler in what is effectively its pastorale.

The coronation begins and ends with bell music (if such a riot deserves the name [listen -- disc 2 track 23, 0:00-0:25]), and there are nine trumpet fanfares -- brief but terrific [listen -- disc 2 track 21, 0:00-0:35], and so are the two drum processions. The assembling of this vocal music represents a palimpsest of the best of English ceremonial composition over the span of some two hundred years: Tallis (O God, the Father of Heaven), Gibbons (Te Deum), Farmer (Come, Holy Ghost), Child (Oh Lord, Grant the King a Long Life), Blow (God Spake Sometimes in Visions), Purcell (I was Glad), and then Handel.

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Copyright © 25 December 2001 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK







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