25 September 2016

The music for the opening and closing voluntaries this morning will be provided by Urban Nocturnes, Trinity Cathedral’s new Artist in Residence ensemble. A diverse chamber music group, Urban Nocturnes is anchored by two prominent Phoenix musicians, violinist Karen Sinclair and violist Christopher McKay, both members of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. In addition to presenting two chamber music concerts each season in the Music at Trinity Series, members of the ensemble will be featured at various cathedral services throughout the year, including Christmas Eve. The music heard this morning is a preview of some of the works that will be performed on their debut concert here at the cathedral, on Sunday, October 2 at 4:00 PM.

One of King 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 and Queen Caroline, which took place on October 11, 1727. Handel composed four anthems for the ceremony (Zadok the Priest is perhaps the most famous of the set); this morning’s anthem is taken from Let Thy Hand be Strengthened and is the middle movement of a three-movement work. Its text is a paraphrase of Psalm 89, verse 15.

          Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat:

          Let mercy and truth go before thy face.

Handel’s Coronation Anthems were amazingly popular (even in Handel’s own lifetime) and they play to the popular image of Handel as a composer whose music requires huge musical resources. In practice, Handel often adapted his music to the occasion and skill of those for whom he was writing. In this instance, the means he had at his disposal for the coronation were the most important of the era – the choir of the Chapel Royal (augmented by 47 singers) with an orchestra of nearly 160 people, all within the glorious, reverberant space of Westminster Abbey. It would have been a remarkable occasion, indeed.

(Illustration: John Shackleton, Portrait of King George II, 1758)