The King Shall Rejoice HWV 260 (Coronation Anthem)
George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

1. The King Shall Rejoice

2. Exceeding Glad Shall He Be

3. Glory and Great Worship

4. Thou Hast Prevented Him

5. Alleluia

This anthem, one of the four that Handel composed for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline at Westminster Abbey on 11 October 1727, is thought to be the first that Handel composed. Although part of the traditional content of British coronations, the texts for all four anthems were picked by Handel himself—a personal selection from the most accessible of an earlier coronation, that of James II of England in 1685. One of George I’s last acts before his death in 1727 was to sign an ‘Act of naturalisation of George Frideric Handel and others’. Handel's first commission as a newly naturalised British subject was to write the music for the coronation of George II of Great Britain and Queen Caroline which took place on 11 October the same year. The first performance of this anthem is thought to have impressed Handel's contemporaries by its richness and scale.

Since their composition, the four Coronation anthems have been popular and regularly played in concerts and festivals even during Handel's own lifetime. In many of his oratorios, Handel re-used substantial extracts from earlier works without making any considerable changes (other than to the text), and parts of the Coronation anthems appear in the oratorios Esther (1732) and Deborah (1733). In practice, Handel often adapted his music to the occasion and to the skill of those for whom he was writing, and no occasion could be grander than a coronation in the wonderful setting of Westminster Abbey. The means he had at his disposal in this instance were the most important of the era—the choir of the Chapel Royal was augmented by forty seven singers, with an orchestra which reached perhaps a total of a hundred and sixty.

For ‘The King Shall Rejoice’, Handel used a choir that was mostly divided into five parts, SAATB, except in the second movement where a four-part choir is used. In the last movement, he added solidity and volume by inserting a second bass part.

Taking a text from Psalm 21 (verses 1–3, 5), Handel splits this work into five separate sections, all scored for chorus with no soloists. The first movement is in D major, reflecting on the king's joy in God's power. As expected, this opening movement is full of festive pomp and fanfares, using the full force of the choir and orchestra. The second movement is in A major and much gentler in character, using no trumpets and drums. A triplet theme appears in the strings throughout this movement which is almost conversational in nature. Handel also uses long held notes, often suspensions in all the vocal parts emphasizing the text ‘thy salvation’. The third movement begins with a majestic D major chord sung by the chorus before a considerable harmonic surprise takes place, moving to the key of B minor and linking directly to the fourth movement, which is again set in triple time. The final movement is an exultant D major double fugue (a fugue with two melodies simultaneously played against each other from the beginning), ending in a closing 'Alleluia' that was intended to be played at the precise moment the king was crowned.