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Handel's Hallelujah Chorus

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Posted 12-14-2011 at 09:42 AM by lauriebear
Tags music

Handel's Messiah is a story of resurrection. It is both the biblical story of Christ's life and resurrection on earth, and the story of Handel's return from oblivion.
Like many of the great composers, Handel was a child prodigy. He began composing operas at young age and by his twenties he was the best paid composer on earth with people fighting for seats whenever he performed. However, fame is fleeting and Handel’s music soon became old-fashioned. No matter what Handel tried, his compositions failed. Bankruptcy and depression followed. Handel had a stroke and developed a palsy that crippled his fingers.
It seemed that Handel’s career was over. Frederick the Great wrote that “Handel’s great days are over, his inspiration is exhausted.” Yet the very situations that seemed to destroy Handel changed him and gave his compositions more depth and feeling.

The Inspiration for the Oratorio

Handel’s friend and patron Charles Jennens sent him a libretto created from a collection of Bible texts about the life of Christ. The words “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” from Isaiah 40 inspired Handel. Handel agreed to write the music. He thought it would take a year to complete. However, when a charitable organization from Dublin gave Handel a generous commission to compose a piece for a benefit, he got busy.
On August 22, 1741, Handel started composing music for the texts that Jennens had sent him. Handel was inspired. When he finished less than a month later he had written one of his most famous and successful compositions ever, The Messiah.

Why Stand for the Hallelujah Chorus?

The tradition of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus began during a performance on March 23, 1743. King George II was attending the performance. When the Hallelujah Chorus began King George rose. It is unclear why he stood up, he may have been stretching his legs, it is possible that King George, who was partially deaf, mistook the opening notes for the national anthem, or he may have risen to his feet out of respect.

No one knows why King George stood but we do know that people around the world still rise to their feet whenever they hear first notes of the Hallelujah Chorus.
Originally, Handel wrote The Messiah to be performed at Lent or Easter. Today, however, the Hallelujah Chorus is most popular as a piece of Christmas music.
Reynolds, Virginia. The Spirit of Christmas: A History of Best-Loved Carols. Peter Pauper Press, Inc. 2000.
Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories. Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2003.

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