George Frideric Handel and the Story of the Hallelujah Chorus
George Frideric Handel was born February 23, 1685. While we all have heard the Hallelujah Chorus during Christmas season, many people don’t realize that George Frideric Handel is its world-renowned composer. And at Christmas time we all sing “Joy To The World”, another of his masterpieces.
While we all have heard the Hallelujah Chorus, many people don’t realize that George Frideric Handel is its world-renowned composer. He is also the genius behind The Choice of Hercules and Solomon.
George Frideric Handel was born February 23, 1685, in Germany, but he spent the majority of his life in England. After living in England for the majority of his life, his love of music and composition was largely influenced by composer Henry Purcell.
In his lifetime, Handel eloquently composed 42 operas; 29 oratorios; 16 organ concerti; over 120 cantatas, trios, and duets; and numerous arias, chamber music pieces, odes, and serenatas. Of his over 200 masterpieces, the most famous piece is the Messiah, which features the Hallelujah Chorus.
Besides the eloquence of his musical genius, Handel also prided himself in utilizing musical instruments that were, in his time, uncommon. The lute, trombone, harp, double bassoon, clarinets, small high comets, french horn, and bell chimes are just a few of the uncommon instruments Handel used in his numerous works.
Handel’s music has captivated audiences for years. He utilized the art of text painting, which is the skilled art of the melody and music imitating the lyrics. This can be best seen in the Messiah’s Every Valley Shall be Exalted, Part One.
The story of the Hallelujah Chorus is an interesting tale. First, the name is actually Hallelujah; however, as this portion of the highly acclaimed Messiah is typically played and heard separately, it has adopted the name of Hallelujah Chorus.
In 1741, Handel composed Messiah and what we know now as the Hallelujah Chorus. While designing and composing Messiah, Handel was in debt and deeply depressed; however, the masterpiece was completed in a mere 24 days.
Despite his mental and financial state, the Hallelujah Chorus’s birth story is a glorious one. After Handel’s assistant called for him for a few moments, the assistant went to Handel’s work area because he received no response from Handel. Upon entering the room, the assistant saw tears emerge from Handel’s eyes. When the assistant asked why Handel was crying, Handel proclaimed, “I have seen the face of God,” while lifting up the composition of the Hallelujah Chorus, which ended up being the crowing achievement of his career.
The lyrics in the Hallelujah Chorus are derived from three passages of the New Testament of the Bible, Revelation 19:6, Revelation 19:16, and Revelation 11:15. Revelation 19:6 reads, “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omipotent reigneth.” Similarly, Revelation 11:15 states, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Lastly, “And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords,” is from Revelation 19:16.
The Hallelujah Chorus has its own tradition that has emerged over time. A standard practice is for the audience to stand while this portion of Messiah is performed. This tradition began by the example of King George II. It was understood that whenever the King stood, everyone else was supposed to as well. For over 200 years, this tradition has remained. Few people know exactly why the King stood at this time. Speculations for this standing ovation range from King George II showing respect for the piece and its importance to the King seeking relief from his gout.
Upon his death on April 14, 1759, George Frideric Handel was largely known and recognized by many famous composers, such as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven. His fame lives on in his masterful compositions.