How successfully do you think Handel’s ‘The King Shall Rejoice’ fits the occasion for which it was written

‘The King Shall Rejoice’ was just one of Handel’s four Coronation Anthems, which were written in 1727 for the accession of George II. The King requested Handel, after the original composer appointed to write the piece of music, William Croft died.

The first movement ‘The King Shall Rejoice’, opens in the key of D major, with a long introductory ritornello, this exercises the strength of the orchestra. The key of D major allowed Handel to exploit the availability of trumpets, which were generally played in this key at the time, and the use of the brass was necessary to create the sense of magnificence and ceremony by a state occasion such as this, as was the use of the timpani. Strategic uses of cadences are particularly common throughout, providing perfect order and structure to the piece. Repetition of phrases is also a device, which gives the piece excellent order. This movement is full of primary chords I IV and V, and was Handel’s typical chordal structure. It was very simple but effective. The note values are linked to the actual words, for example the word ‘strength’ is used with a long note value, showing the definition of the word. The trills added decoration, making gestures of royal significance.

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Tension is built up by the time we reach the opening of the choral section (A). A rich, powerful homophonic texture gains presence at this stage, with fine use of declamatory style dotted rhythms, giving this new section emphasis on the lyrics. In addition to this, the voices are singing in unison and this gives a vast impact. Dramatic pauses are put in on the second phrase sung by the choir. This focuses on increasing the tension for a spectacular opening. Handel uses descending melismatic sequences on the word ‘rejoice’, this is an adaptation of word painting, which gives effect to the occasion specifically written for.

The second movement ‘Exceeding Glad Shall He Be’ opens in A major, the dominant of the original key. This features the higher and lower string sections in playful exchange, with no trumpets or drums. It gives a lighter feel and pays much more attention to detail. An opening ritornello, like the first movement, carries the consistency of structure to make them merge. However the time signature has changed from a March style, common time to a Dance style, triple time. The dotted rhythms still continue throughout the movement. The use of hemiolas produced a feeling of two time when actually in triple time, which Handel used to create a varied sense of rhythm, and these are often followed by cadences. A chordal texture was used when the voices entered. They are working in pairs; the S & B are against A & T, on the second phrase. It then leads into a contrapuntal texture at letter E, using both imitation and superb use of suspensions. The suspensions are there for building up tension, then relaxation adds to the superior effect wanted to capture the ambiance of royal presence.

A dominant feature at bar 35 on the word ‘salvation’, involves the 7,6 suspension. Bars 60-75 are repetitions of bars 31-47 but varied slightly by modulating into the tonic, A major. A long chain of suspensions with a triplet-based accompaniment follows this, as a new section it is adding more interest to the movement. This leads on to bringing the strong chordal texture back towards the end, increasing the use of hemiolas again. The closing ritornello is an instrumental dance; this keeps the mood going and gives a splendid indication that something exciting is going to happen, which happens to be the next movement ‘Glory and Great Worship’.

The brief outburst of the triumphant third movement, with its extraordinary harmonic surprise, links directly to the fourth ‘Thou Hast Prevented Him’. This movement is again in triple time but it has more fugal counterpoint and Handel builds the excitement by adding instruments as he goes: first the strings, then the oboes and finally the trumpets and drums.

The final movement ‘Allelujah’ is an exuberant double fugue. Containing two simultaneous melodies pitted against each other from the outset. This gives the piece a magnificently grand and elaborate conclusion that, as it was performed at the actual crowning section of the coronation service, matched the occasion perfectly. The choice of word was distinctively elected, as its definition is “praise the Lord”, which adjoins to the ceremony of a significant importance.

The final four bars is a classic example of Handel’s work. There is a pause, which creates a dramatic silence and builds up tension, followed by a short Adagio section, using a dissonant suspension going straight into a perfect cadence, to end this outstanding composition. This is known as a Handelien cliche.

Handel’s intuition for knowing when to use a declamatory, homophonic style for impact or a polyphonic style to generate tension and excitement over a wider span shows a dramatic talent of the highest order. This can be seen throughout the work, from the opening choral block chords of ‘The King Shall Rejoice, the King Shall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord’ to the contrapuntal ecstasy of the drawn-out closing ‘Allelujah’.

In my opinion this piece was entirely successful in fitting the occasion for which it was written. Everything about it contributed to its success, from the choice of key instruments, voices and its style, which was very appropriate for a royal and religious state occasion.