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The Messiah - What's the deal with standing for the Hallelujah Chorus?

Updated on October 16, 2011

Last spring I attended a performance by the Trinidad Invaders Steel Drum Orchestra during Dollywood's Festival of Nations. One of the songs they played was the Hallelujah Chorus, a popular choice from Handel's Messiah. Several members of the audience stood during the music. My friend stood and motioned for me to do the same. I didn't know why but did anyway. She explained later that it was traditional to stand when the Hallelujah Chorus was played. I had never heard of this and decided to look into the matter further.

Background information. George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany in 1685. He was a musical child prodigy and began composing at an early age. He earned early success with numerous Italian operas but as that genre began losing interest with the masses, he experienced repeated failures. The English oratorio became more popular and Handel developed numerous works in that genre. Messiah is his sixth English oratorio and it became his best-known work. It opened to moderate success and was often performed for the Foundling Hospital in London, that still exists today as The Thomas Coram Foundation.

I've always thought that the title was "The Messiah," but further research revealed that it is simply called "Messiah."

Handel's friend and supporter, Charles Jennens, was inspired to compile scriptural text from the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer. He gave it to Handel, who began composing an oratorio of the text on August 22, 1741 and it took less than a month to write.

Messiah is the Biblical story of Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection. Part one is the prophetic telling of the Messiah's coming and his birth. Part two is Christ's passion and death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven. Part three is the promise of redemption and the prediction of judgment for all. It has undergone numerous revisions over the years of choral parts and solos and a variety of musical instrument changes.

Originally meant for performing during Lent or at Easter, today Messiah is now more popular at Christmas time. The premiere was held on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland. At the first showing in London on March 23, 1743, King George II was in attendance. When the Hallelujah Chorus began, he is rumored to have stood up. Since all subjects were required to stand when he did, everyone else stood as well. Thus began a tradition that continues today. There is no liturgical or musical reason to stand, it has just become fairly common over the years.

So, the next time you're at a performance of Messiah, note how many people stand during the Hallelujah Chorus. Will you be one of them?

November 23, 2010 - Flash Mob Singing Hallelujah Chorus

Handel's Messiah
Handel's Messiah

This London Philharmonic Orchestra performance is available for MP3 download.

 

Do you stand or remain seated during the performance of Hallelujah Chorus?

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Comments

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  • Esmeowl12 profile imageAUTHOR

    Cindy A Johnson 

    4 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    Thanks, RTalloni! It's the same in our church. I appreciate your comments!

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 

    4 years ago from the short journey

    That history is interesting, isn't it? Knowledge about the roots of traditions can give us something to think about!

    Though when the Hallelujah Chorus is presented in our church services it is not our tradition to stand, when we are with others in a different setting and they stand, we do so out of respect for them.

    Glad to see the AlphabetPhotography Food Court Flash Mob video included--they have some neat concepts. :)

  • PrettySunflower profile image

    PrettySunflower 

    6 years ago from Malaysia

    Interesting information. I can't promise to stand but I might. And when I do, I will think of you :-)

  • Esmeowl12 profile imageAUTHOR

    Cindy A Johnson 

    6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    Thanks for stopping by, Gypsy and Samsons1. I'm looking forward to seeing a full performance of the oratorio this Christmas.

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Wow I didn't know that! Thanks for this interesting hub.Now I am curious to find out if they play the Hallelujah Chorus here in Riga. Will have to look into it.

  • samsons1 profile image

    Sam 

    6 years ago from Tennessee

    voted up and beautiful! What an interesting and informative hub. Thanks for this valuable information. I always stand out of respect. This is truly a magnificent piece of music...

  • Esmeowl12 profile imageAUTHOR

    Cindy A Johnson 

    6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    I appreciate your comments, Patty, Hyphenbird and christopher. I enjoyed doing the research for this piece. It's always nice to learn something new!

  • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

    Patty Inglish 

    6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

    We use the Hallelujah Chorus every Christmas and every Ressurection Day, preceded and followed by comtemporary Christian hymns. We stand through the HC with hands lifted to God. It's great!

  • Hyphenbird profile image

    Brenda Barnes 

    6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

    Well this is very interesting. It is a very beautiful song and music. I would not stand though unless I stood for all hymns. But everyone to his own. Thanks for a fascinating read.

  • christopheranton profile image

    Christopher Antony Meade 

    6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

    I am hoping to see a live performance of "Messiah" this year, for the first time in many years. I shall certainly be standing for the Hallelujah Chorous.

    On "You Tube" there is a performance conducted by Sir Colin Davis. About half the audience didn't stand. If I had been there I would have shouted at them to stand up. It is a disrespect to the memory of Handel, and the king, not to do so.

    Thanks for writing this hub. I hope it helps to remind people of the value of tradidition.

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