Even if you have never listened to classical music before, when you hear the word “Hallelujah” this chorus comes to mind. Countless movies and TV shows have used this chorus in scenes of victory and triumph. You probably even sing it to yourself when you achieve some great accomplishment or something really awesome happens.
This chorus occurs shortly after Why do the nations so furiously rage, after the air Thou shalt break them. This air is about victory over enemies, so the next movement (Hallelujah) celebrates that victory. The text for this comes from various passages in Revelation, which is about the end times (including judgment day again) when there is no more evil, since it will be defeated. Hence the victorious music Handel writes for this chorus.
Now time for some interesting trivia you may not know if you have never seen this performed live. I didn’t know it either. A few years ago in college I had the epic experience of singing this (with a big choir, not by myself) for the annual Christmas concerts, and an epicer experience of singing it at the college president’s church for a congregation of 3,000 people. At about 2 seconds into it, everyone started standing. I think “Ok, they must be standing because it’s the finale.” But they did it at the church too. And I didn’t know why.
Legend has it that when King George attended a performance of the Messiah, he stood up when this chorus started (when the king stands, everyone stands). It’s kind of like when the national anthem is played, people stand up to show respect. We don’t really know the accuracy of this story about King George II, but I like to think he stood out of respect for the piece. “Hallelujah” is a word that comes from the Bible meaning “praise Jehovah” (Jehovah being a name for God), so it is a chorus of praise or respect.
To get the full experience of this piece, or any other epic classical work, you need to listen to this on stereo sound, loudly.
00:00- Stand up
00:55- Various hallelujahs all over the place, all voices along with “for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”
01:17- Music sung lower to symbolize the earth, higher notes to symbolize heaven (01:27). This is a common text painting method used in religious choral works to contrast heaven and earth.
01:37- Lowest voices sing “and He shall reign forever and ever”, then higher voices sing the same phrase
02:01- “King of kings and Lord of lords”- sopranos sing a little bit higher each time, ending on a high note that is fun for sopranos to sing (2:38) *windows shatter*
3:40- Final epic “Hallelujah”
Next week will be our last week looking at Handel’s Messiah, until maybe next December 😉