George Frideric Handel: Hallelujah Chorus

Context

George Frideric Handel’s Messiah has remained one of the composer’s most beloved works. Incredibly, Handel completed this 260-page oratorio in just 24 days during the summer of 1741. The scriptural text was compiled by Charles Jennens, with the source being the King James Bible. The first performance of Messiah was on 13th April 1742, to celebrate Easter. 

Initially the oratoria garnered a lukewarm reception from audiences, however the work began to gain popularity over some years, with it now being the go-to work to perform during the Easter period.  In particular, the Hallelujah Chorus is one of the most recognisable works in Western Classical Music. This particular part of Messiah was performed in London as a stand-alone piece before the oratorio was premiered there. Hallelujah Chorus was so well received that Handel was invited back the next year to perform the entire Messiah oratorio.

 

The Text

The text comes from the book of Revelation in the New Testament:

 

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

 For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

 (For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth)

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

(Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)

Hallelujah

 

The kingdom of this world;

is become the kingdom of our Lord,

and of His Christ

and of His Christ

And He shall reign forever and ever

And he shall reign forever and ever

And he shall reign forever and ever

And he shall reign forever and ever

 

King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah

and Lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah

King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah

and Lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah

King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah

and Lord of lords

King of kings and Lord of lords

 

And he shall reign

And he shall reign

And he shall reign

He shall reign

And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings forever and ever

and Lord of lords hallelujah hallelujah

And he shall reign forever and ever

King of kings and Lord of lords

King of kings and Lord of lords

And he shall reign forever and ever

Forever and ever and ever and ever

(King of kings and Lord of lords)

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah

Hallelujah

 

The Music

Set in the bright key of D major, the Hallelujah Chorus closes the second part of the Messiah. This chorus also utilises trumpets and timpani, which add impact and timbral colour to the orchestra and chorus. The choir work homophonically at the start, with the iconic ‘Hallelujah’ motif. This simple motif on a single word hones in on the meaning of this chorus and what words we should focus on. Variations of this theme is threaded throughout the whole piece. 

The choir unite for important parts of the work, largely on the ‘Hallelujah’ proclamations. Also the line ‘for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth’ is sung by all the voice, first in unison, and then in imitation. There is a jubilant atmosphere throughout, with the sporadic ‘Hallelujah’ interjections keeping this atmosphere afloat. 

Handel also uses smaller groups of the chorus for various sections. For the line ‘The kingdom of this world is become’, Handel writes a four-part chorale setting. On more dramatic lines, he unites the voices to create a bigger wall of sound. 

The final acclamation ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ is sung on just one note, accentuated by ‘Hallelujah’ outbursts. The trumpets and timpani accentuate these outbursts further by adding weight and volume to the voices. The final few bars raise the Hallelujah higher and higher until a final full resolution on a dramatic ‘Hallelujah’. The ringing of the organ and the thundering timpani add to this epic celebratory conclusion.

 

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy…John Tavener: God is With Us

 

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