Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hallelujah Chorus

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.

Having sung the piece with several choirs over the years, I've got the Soprano and Alto parts of the chorus down to memory.  And each Christmas I try and make sure I get to sing it at least once.  In fact for any fellow Brisbanites who are interested, a favourite Christmas tradition of mine here in Brisbane is the 'Sing along Messiah' that's put on by the Albert Street Uniting Church in the city.  Any one can turn up at 4:30pm on Sunday the 9th of December, and have a bit of a practice/sing-along for an hour and a half with all the other would be singers and a wonderful conductor, and then at 7pm all the friends and family turn up to sit in the stalls above the main seating (where the singers sit) and the impromptu choir, excellent conductor and four professional (and wonderful) singers perform large segments of the 'Messiah'.

Including, of course, the majestic Hallelujah Chorus.

xo Tammy


  1. I didn't know you stood up! I love that! Gayle was telling me about this last year but it was the church Christmas production that night so I couldn't go. I would love to go this year, thanks for the reminder! Have a fabulous birthday Ms Munro! :) x

    1. Yay! You should totally come! Gayle and I are signed up and ready to go again ;)


  2. I LOVED this the year I came with Beth (culturing her :)) to the one you practice, and I keep thinking 'Next year James and I will come!" but it keeps being on our anniversary :P The songs are definitely incredible live. Miraculous.

    Happy Birthday Halloween Girl!! :)


    1. I remember that Abby! The one with the eunuch..

    2. Bahaha Beth! - The eunuch!!!!

  3. I love your passion Tammy :)
    I've heard it sung a lot but I want to go and really listen to it now. Make sure I don't take it for granted :) x

  4. PS: Composed it in 24 days?! - That's definitely a miracle!