No composer has been more closely associated with the British monarchy than German-born George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). His anthem Zadok the Priest has been performed at every coronation since that of King George II on 11 October 1727, while his Water Music was performed in 2012 on the River Thames for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Handel enjoyed the patronage of three British monarchs during his lifetime: Queen Anne, George I, and George II. Employed by George I in Hanover, Handel had the advantage of knowing the new king before he ascended the British throne in 1714. Although he was not appointed Master of the King’s Musick, Handel was favoured by George I and his family, while the appointed Master was left to compose music for smaller, less significant occasions. Handel tutored the royal princesses and composed music for almost all important royal events. He went on to compose the coronation anthems for George II, as well as the Music for the Royal Fireworks and the famous Water Music.
Exhibits included paintings of the Royal Family and the 1727 Order of Service for the Coronation of George II, annotated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Musical instruments of the period were displayed alongside autograph manuscripts including Zadok the Priest, the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, and Lessons for Princess Louisa, which Handel composed to teach the Royal princesses to play the harpsichord. Rarely-seen documents from the archives of Westminster Abbey gave an insight into the organisation of major Royal events.
The musician who personally tutored the royal princesses also oversaw the music at the Foundling Hospital’s chapel where illegitimate and abandoned children were christened. Handel was a governor of the Foundling Hospital, donating the organ to its Chapel, composing an anthem for the Hospital, and conducting annual fundraising concerts of Messiah. Today’s charity concerts and fundraising auctions can trace their roots back to the Foundling Hospital and the remarkable creative philanthropy of Handel.