December 2011

"Hallelujah" Chorus from Messiah

by George Frideric Handel

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!

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

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!

"Hallelujah" Chorus from Messiah by George Frideric Handel (3:58)

For those interested, this recording was from a recording of the complete Messiah by The English Concert & Choir conducted by Trevor Pinnock.

Jon's Interpretation:

There is an unconfirmed legend that Handel wrote the "Hallelujah" Chorus after experiencing a vision of Heaven, including a vision of "the great God Himself" enthroned in glory. We'll probably never know, in mortality, whether that was true or not. Regardless, a tremendous feeling of the Spirit can be felt by simply listening to this piece. It's even more pronounced when you perform it.

While you're essentially repeating John the Revelator's testimony, it is a very, very powerful testimony. It is a rejoicing of man to look forward to the day when the Savior of the world will take His rightful role as "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords". This is a piece of music that I can still get emotional even listening to, much less performing. It's often hard to keep me from singing along with a performance (even if I'm not supposed to be performing).

Extra Credit:

Here is a score of the "Hallelujah" Chorus, for choir and piano.

Choir/Piano Score for "Hallelujah" Chorus from Messiah by George Frideric Handel

Not only is the "Hallelujah" Chorus commonly performed around Christmas time, but the entire Messiah is also commonly heard. Rather than the full Messiah, I thought I'd include a couple of pieces of it that you've probably already heard.

"And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed" Chorus from Messiah by George Frideric Handel (2:52)

     And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
     And all flesh shall see it together,
     for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:5)

"For unto us a Child is born" Chorus from Messiah by George Frideric Handel (4:05)

     For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given,
     And the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his Name shall be called:
     Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace! (Isaiah 9:6)

"Glory to God in the highest" Chorus from Messiah by George Frideric Handel (1:59)

     Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth,
     good will towards men! (Luke 2:14)

Next, I thought I'd include a parody. The Bob River Comedy group produced a couple of albums in the series "Twisted Christmas". On their album "I Am Santa Claus" (a parody of Black Sabbath's "I Am Iron-Man"), there is a brilliant parody of the Hallelujah Chorus called the "What's It To Ya" Chorus. Enjoy!

The "What's It To Ya" Chorus by Bob Rivers (2:38)

     What's it to ya?! What difference does it make?
     Why don't you go about your own business? What's it to ya?!
     Why must you bother me when I'm thinking? What's it to ya?!
     It's none of your concern, so just buzz off!
     And we shall complain forever and ever.
     Leave far from me, and just walk afar! And we shall complain forever and ever.
     Don't bother! Forever and ever! What's it to ya?!

And finally, many of you have probably already seen this, but in November of 2010, a New York food court was the subject of a flash mob. This particular group spontaneously broke into a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus. It's quite inspirational to watch, as I suspect some of those people singing were not originally part of the mob. It restores your faith in humanity. Merry Christmas!