Coronation Music

Thursday, May 4, 2023

The coronation of Charles III will take place this Saturday in London’s Westminster Abbey. Music will of course play an especially important role. Traditionally, music at coronations is a combination of choral and orchestral pieces, and there is a mix of traditional and newer works. For nearly 300 years, Georg Friedrich Händel’s anthem Zadok the Priest (RISM ID no. 990025803; RISM Catalog | RISM Online) has had a fixed place in the ceremony, ever since the 1727 coronation of George II. In addition, Charles III has commissioned no fewer than twelve compositions.

That coronation music is not a purely British phenomenon can be seen from taking a look at the pieces marked with the subject heading “Coronation music” in RISM (RISM Catalog | RISM Online), which we introduced just for the occasion and have added to some representative pieces. Among the works we can find are Mozart’s Piano Concertos KV 459 and KV 537, which were performed for the coronation of Leopold II in 1790, and an anonymous Coronation March for Napoleon I (RISM Catalog | RISM Online). Luigi Cherubini also wrote a Gran Messa in F major for the same occassion (RISM Catalog | RISM Online).

Image: Georg Friedrich Händel, Ewiger Schöpfer und Geber, Städtische Bibliotheken Leipzig (D-LEm) Becker III.2.79, RISM ID no. 200043608 (RISM Catalog | RISM Online). Public Domain Mark 1.0.

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