Zadok the Priest

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Zadok the Priest (HWV 258) is a British anthem that was composed by George Frideric Handel for the coronation of George II in 1727. Alongside The King Shall Rejoice, My Heart is Inditing, and Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, Zadok the Priest is one of Handel's coronation anthems. One of Handel's best-known works, Zadok the Priest has been sung prior to the anointing of the sovereign at the coronation of every British monarch since its composition and has become recognised as a British patriotic anthem.[1][2]


Zadok anointing Solomon, depicted in a 16th-century engraving

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.[3] The text is a translation of the traditional antiphon, Unxerunt Salomonem,[4] itself derived from the biblical account of the anointing of Solomon by the priest Zadok (1 Kings 1:38-40).

These words have been used in every English, and later British, coronation since that of King Edgar at Bath Abbey in 973.[5] An earlier setting is thought to have been written by Thomas Tomkins for the coronation of King Charles I in 1626, the text of which has survived but not the music.[6]

Henry Lawes wrote another for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661.[7] This was also sung at James II's in 1685, although the music may have been amended to accommodate changes to the text made by Archbishop William Sancroft.[8]

At the coronation itself on 11 October 1727, the choir of Westminster Abbey sang Zadok the Priest in the wrong part of the service; they had earlier entirely forgotten to sing one anthem and another ended "in confusion".[9]


The lyrics of the piece are biblical, being a distillation of 1 Kings 1:34-45:

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.[10]


Zadok the Priest is written for SS-AA-T-BB chorus and orchestra (two oboes, two bassoons, three trumpets, timpani, strings with three violin parts rather than the usual two, and continuo), in the key of D major. 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 a dance form in 3
, 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
), 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 "Alleluia".

In other contexts[edit]

Tony Britten rearranged Zadok the Priest in 1992, using it as the basis for the UEFA Champions League Anthem.[11][12] During the Coronation of Charles III and Camilla, some football supporters who were unfamiliar with Zadok the Priest initially confused the two pieces.[13]

The song was played during the wedding processional of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Mary Donaldson. Their wedding took place on 14 May 2004 at Copenhagen Cathedral.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blumsom, Amy (23 October 2015). "Zadok the Priest: a champion's anthem". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  2. ^ Archived 7 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine, Coronation Anthems, HWV 258 - 261. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  3. ^ "George Frideric Handel: Coronation Anthems, HWV258-261". Classical Archives. 2015. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  4. ^ Range, Matthias (2012), Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-02344-4 (p. 10)
  5. ^ "Guide to the Coronation Service", Westminster Abbey website, London, U.K.: Dean and Chapter of Westminster, 2009, archived from the original on 5 December 2010, retrieved 20 August 2009, Meanwhile the choir sings the anthem Zadok the Priest, the words of which (from the first Book of Kings) have been sung at every coronation since King Edgar's in 973. Since the coronation of George II in 1727 the setting by Handel has always been used.
  6. ^ Range, Matthias (2012). Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II. Cambridge University Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-1107023444.
  7. ^ Sadie, Julie Anne (1990), Companion to Baroque Music, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-21414-5 (p. 297)
  8. ^ Range 2012, p.
  9. ^ "Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide: Sources for the Coronation – George II, MS 1079b (p. 7)" (PDF). Bibliotheca Lambethana.
  10. ^ "Office for the Royal Maundy" (PDF). Westminster Abbey. 21 April 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 April 2023. Retrieved 2 February 2022.
  11. ^ "UEFA Champions League anthem". Union of European Football Associations. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  12. ^ Borden, Sam (23 May 2013). "European Soccer's Biggest Star May Be a Song". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Coronation viewers confused as 'Champions League anthem' plays during ceremony". The Independent. 6 May 2023. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  14. ^ Frederik & Mary's Royal Wedding 2004: Mary Elizabeth Donaldson Arrives, retrieved 6 June 2023

External links[edit]