George Frederic Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah – Outstanding Anglo/German Baroque

George Frederic Handel lived from 1685 to 1759. He is one of the most famous British baroque composers – but he was actually born in Germany. In fact his correctly spelt name was Georg Friedrich Händel. The two dots (umlaut) over the ‘a’ turns it into an ‘e’ sound so in Germany his surname is pronounced “Hendel”.

Handel moved to England in 1712 following stints working in Halle, Hamburg and Italy. He liked the country so much he became a naturalised British subject in 1727. As a result of his previous work and travels his compositions were strongly influenced by the Italian baroque and middle-German polyphonic choral music.

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) - Britain's great baroque composer (born in Halle, Germany)

George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) – Britain’s great baroque composer (born in Halle, Germany)

He completed writing the Messiah Oratorio in September 1741 – a remarkable feat since he had only been working on it for just over 3 weeks. His autographed score had 259 pages! The Libretto or words for the Messiah were not written by Handel but by the Englishman Charles Jennens. Handel took over these words and wrote the music for the oratorio. The Hallelujah Chorus is at the end of the second of three parts.

The work was first performed in Dublin at a charity event in April 1742. Of the three charities sponsored one was for prisoners’ debt relief and the £127 provided from the takings for this charity secured the release of 142 indebted prisoners. A second Dublin performance was organised in June of the same year.

Covent Garden theatre was the venue for the London premier of the work. The London press considered the name ‘Messiah’ inappropriate for a work preformed in a ‘theatre’, particularly as key soloists were secular (non-religious) in nature. So Handel renamed it for this London performance: ‘New Sacred Oratorio’.

A tradition developed whereby the audience stood during the performance of the Hallelujah Chorus. It was rumoured that this was because at the London premier King George II stood during this part of the performance thereby requiring all other attendees to also stand.

In my rendition I have tried to maintain the musical integrity of nearly all of the original score. The instruments used, bassoons, oboes, trumpets, timpani and strings are as intended by Handel. However I have changed the way I have used the choir voices. Handel usually adapted the vocal parts in each performance to fit in with the capabilities and range of the soloists he was using. As mentioned above the actual words were not written by Handel but by Jennens. Therefore I have taken the liberty of using the voices as instruments to simply add voice-like musical texture to the whole performance. The TRANSFORMATES 變 Digital Choir is ideally suited to this approach.

Despite being performed on contemporary instruments the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel maintains it’s status as a masterpiece of British Baroque music. I hope you like the result. Below is the embedded video of my interpretation which is part of the baroque portfolio of the TRANSFORMATES 變 Music Project.

Chris Duggleby

If you enjoyed this please take a like at my interpretations of the following works (just click on the titles):

Vivaldi’s Summer Concerto (part 3 from the Four Seasons Concertos)

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue

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