We introduced Handel back in August 2009. He was a German-born composer born in 1685 who spent most of his career in Great Britain.
In 1741, a wealthy land-owner and accomplished librettist (a "librettist" is someone who writes the words to be sung in an opera) named Charles Jennens presented Handel with the text of a project about Jesus Christ. The text was largely scriptures taken from the King James Version of the Bible (Old and New Testament) and some segments from the Book of Common Prayer. The text was in three parts. The first part contained Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Christ, along with the announcement of His birth to the shepherds. The second part covered the Atonement, crucifixion, resurrection, and His ascension to Heaven. The third part describes the Second Coming and Day of Judgment. Handel took this text and created an oratorio called Messiah.
An oratorio is like an opera. It is accompanied by an orchestra, and it consists of various types of short pieces, such as a choir piece (chorus) or a vocal solo (aria). Opera is meant to be performed on a stage as part of a drama. It tells a story. An oratorio contains no acting, and is strictly a concert piece.
The word "Messiah" is a Hebrew word that means "Anointed One". This can be directly translated in Greek to the word "Christos" (or, in English, "Christ"). The word "Messiah" is one of the many names referring to Jesus Christ.
The full Messiah oratorio takes over two and a half hours to perform. While it's considered one work of music, it's actually 53 little works. When performed together and in order, they tell the story of the coming of Christ, His earthly mission, and His eventual return. And it does this using the scriptures.
At the end of the second part, there is a chorus named "Hallelujah". The text from this chorus comes from Revelation 19:6, 19:16, and 11:15. The word "hallelujah" is a Hebrew word meaning "Praise God". This is kind of a bridge between Part 2 (the Ascension) and Part 3 (the Second Coming).
In 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart created an arrangement of Messiah. It strengthens a lot of parts in the orchestra. This is the arrangement that's most commonly performed today.
The "Hallelujah" Chorus has been performed countless times. It is particularly popular around Christmas (thus, the month I chose to highlight it).
Even though the choir is singing in English, it may still be hard to understand what they're singng, so here's the text:
Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah!
The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ,
And He shall reign forever and ever, Hallelujah!
King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and He shall reign forever and ever, Hallelujah!
I have absolutely no clue when I first heard this piece. This is an extremely popular piece of classical music, and I probably heard it first when I was very, very young (and it was probably around Christmas time). In fact, it's entirely possible that the first performance I heard was one of the many performances broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I really don't know.
I have performed this piece several times. In High School, we would perform this piece around Christmas time in the St. Bernard's Church on the corner of Church Street and Main Street in Watertown. I was known for being an unusually loud tenor, so, when listening to concert recordings, I could often pick out my own voice on lines such as "King of Kings!"
So, for your Christmas celebration, here is the "Hallelujah" Chorus from Messiah. Play it loudly, and enjoy!