When Handel composed 'Messiah' in 1741, he was in debt and deeply depressed. Yet he somehow managed to compose the oratorio in only 24 days, which (if you know anything at all about music) is absolutely astonishing. So many songs and their lyrics, up to 8 vocal lines, complete orchestral scores. Amazing.
And of course the most famous piece from the oratorio is 'Hallelujah' (referred to these days as the 'Hallelujah Chorus'). The story goes that during the composition phase Handel's assistant had called him several times and received no response. So he went to Handel's work room and there he found the composer with tears streaming down him face. When he asked him why I was crying, Handel apparently held up the score he'd just written of the Hallelujah Chorus and replied 'I have seen the face of God'.
It's almost a shame really that the chorus is so well known these days, because I think people get so used to hearing it that they've stopped listening to it. You hear it in shopping centers, or television commercials. Often you hear it in passing. But if you haven't ever heard it performed live, with a wonderful choir - especially as part of a performance of the extended 'Messiah' - then you should really put it on your list of things to do.
And if you do see it performed live, you'll enjoy a wonderful tradition (that may or may not be based in fact). Apparently at the London Premier of the 'Messiah', King George II was so moved when Hallelujah Chorus was performed, that he rose to his feet. And as everyone else must stand when the King stands, the entire audience rose to their feet. The King may have been showing respect for his Saviour and felt moved by the Spirit to rise to his feet. Or he may have stood to try and get some relief for his gout. Perhaps he never stood at all (there's no proof that he did). But the tradition remains, and audiences will always rise to their feet when the Hallelujah Chorus begins. And honestly, there are few things more exhilarating then rising to your feet as an orchestra and choir perform what is without doubt one of the most thrilling pieces of music ever written.
Including, of course, the majestic Hallelujah Chorus.