Lately I’ve been getting these videos to look at on YouTube, GodTube and others about the Hallelujah Chorus being sung in surprise fashion in malls and train stations. It is very moving. To see the faces of unsuspecting people as they are presented with the very simple but elegant singing of the Second Coming of Christ is precious.
Not only standard performances, but the version from “Young Messiah” is regenerative, hip, cool and exciting. It loses none of its power, and yet is totally accessible. Small churches, large churches and all of those in between, attempt to sing it this time of year. This leaves me to ask the question . . .
What is it about the “Hallelujah Chorus” that makes it so great?
In 1741, George Frideric Handel wrote this piece as part of a larger work, an Oratorio entitled Messiah. An oratorio is, in essence, an opera with no movement. It has three parts, The Hallelujah Chorus (the 42nd work in the musical) ends the second part, also known as the “Easter Section” of the work. The first thing that sets this piece off is the title, Messiah, most people say it with “The” in front of the title. But the work is simply called Messiah. In fact The Hallelujah Chorus is actually named simply Hallelujah in the score. So the proper way to say it is simply, “Hallelujah from Messiah”. Unlike any other oratorio by Handel, “it is a work of pure devotion,” according to writers Ulrich and Pisk in the book, A History of Music and Musical Style. This entire work stands alone in the vast oceans of compositions by Handel. But that still doesn’t make this piece great.
In fact, one of the melody lines corresponding with “and He shall reign forever” was purposefully used in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in the Dona Nobis Pacem section. Another amazing thing is that the 50-song work was indeed completed in 24 days. In the autograph of his first page, G.F. Handel writes “Begun the 22nd of August 1741,” and then he finished the orchestration on the evening of Sept. 14. But that still doesn’t make this piece great.
In London’s Covent Garden theatre on March 23, 1743, it is reported that during the playing of the 94-measure “Hallelujah” that King George II stood in honor of its playing. This comes as no surprise as the King’s official title, as he created it was, George the Second, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith. His stand for the true King is probably the one act that he is best remembered for, as the institution still stands today. But that still doesn’t make this piece great.
The greatness of Hallelujah is that despite the accompaniment – be it an old piano, a chamber ensemble, a full orchestra, or rock band; despite the singers – be it solo, four-part choir, or praise team or the venue Royal Albert Hall, or a food court at St. Louis Mills: The greatness of Hallelujah is the great Savior for whom it stands. Can you think of any figure in history, any one person – whether it is for a worldly god or an amazing potentate – that more stirring music has been written of than Jesus Christ?
Can you think of one person that causes even the busiest agnostic at Christmas to stop everything and cry in the mall at the sound of His Hallelujah than Jesus? This alone, should help us to examine the supernatural ability of our Savior, and our need for Him.
Face it, music has amazing power. But, when coupled with the power of our Savior, amazing things happen. People stand, people are saved, and people are changed. Hallelujah doesn’t mean something, Hallelujah (which means Praise God) means everything! Not the Handel piece, but the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, our Lord. If a humanistic music lover tells you that it is simply the power of the song, he is forgetting that no other songs make people to stand without being prompted, even a king over the largest earthly empire to date.
With that in mind, whether you are a lover of all things traditional or contemporary (whatever that may mean), hip-hop, or country/western – regard the music of Jesus as special, and important. If you don’t like it, simply remember Who does. “If it enthrones Jesus, it dethrones Satan!”