Reflection on the “Hallelujah Chorus”

by bachnera

After hearing different versions of the impressive “Hallelujah Chorus” the other day in class, I decided to research this iconic chorus a little more.  I wanted explore how it fit and how it was originally presented in the context of Handel’s oratorio Messiah.  In addition, I was so fascinated with the chorus’ ability to move listeners that I wanted to uncover why, exactly this piece is just so powerful.  

From my research, I learned that in this oratorio, the characters do not actually act out scenes from the bible; the performers simply narrate the story of Christ.  Messiah, the setting for this chorus, can be broken down into 3 general acts (one dealing with the prophecy and birth of Christ, one concerning Christ’s passion, death, and spreading the Gospel, and one concentrating his resurrection, and the Day of Judgment) and from there, numerous scenes.  The “Hallelujah Chorus” is one of the oratorio’s turning points, and it brings the final scene in the second act to a dramatic close—the scene sometimes referred to as “God’s triumph.”  Right before this chorus is sung, there is an aria that expresses how God triumphs over evil, and after the people realize this they come together as a whole to sing praise to Him.

This chorus continues to move people today, outside the context of Handel’s Messiah, due to a variety of key elements ranging from a distinctively rich orchestra playing various instruments like trumpets, percussions, and strings together, to a unique setting on the D Major key, the “key of glory.”  Also, the important phrases glorifying God are brought to the listener’s attention and emphasized through techniques like monophony, homophony, and polyphony.  All of these elements combined have a significant emotional impact on the listener—one that is so strong, some audiences are brought to their feet.

Although I have found several technical factors that can be attributed to the chorus’ grandeur and power, I still wonder if this intense sense of divineness is a product of the music itself or if some of the listener’s response is due to the knowledge that he or she is praising the “King of Kings.”  Furthermore, I would be interested to see if listeners’ reactions would be different if the “Hallelujah Chorus” was glorifying someone or something random or insignificant in their lives.