Sunday, December 23, 2012

George Frederick Handel - Hallelujah Chorus in D Major (from The Messiah)

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
- Revelation 11:15
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
- Revelation 19:6

The biggest mistake that Classical Music (as commonly understood) can make is to divorce itself from its audience.  This divorce explains almost all of why modern Classical Music is such a wasteland of ugliness.  In earlier days, Classical composers were Rock Stars, and the audience treated them as such.  That flame, while flickering, is still burning and even showing signs of roaring back.  Handel's "Messiah" shows that.

Image via Wikipedia
It's a myth that everyone stands for the Hallelujah Chorus because the King was so overwhelmed when he heard it that he lept to his feet.  The rest of the audience of course would have scrambled to theirs as well - nobody sat while the King stood, Back In The Day.  It seems that the story isn't true but I must say that the hair on the back of my neck stood up when the audience rose en masse the first time I performed this.  They also sang along to us, claiming this small portion of Handel's master work as theirs.

That continues to this day with the wonderful new tradition of Classical Music "Flash Mobs".  Essentially, this is music swooping down on people who, unsuspecting, are simply living out an ordinary day of their lives.  The People always rise to this occasion, joining with delight the sudden and seemingly random outbreak of culture.  Here's one example, from a shopping mall in Philadelphia, accompanied by the world's largest pipe organ:

Sure, the camera work is bad (it's mostly caught from within the audience), and the sound quality is amateurish (same problem).  Watch the people - caught without practice, or even a script, they join in the singing.  They take a stuffy Symphony Hall performance and make it their own.  They understand - everyone involved understands - that this is our culture.  The result is a performance done for the joy of the doing by both professionals and audience.  I cannot put into words how beautiful I see these social acts of culture.

And although I have not sung this for twenty years, to this day I could do a creditable job on the baritone part from memory - and could do it justice if I found the script lost somewhere in the library here in Camp Borepatch.

This is Classical Music, as it was understood back in the days when composers were Rock Stars.  And quite frankly, some composers - notably Handel - are still rock stars.  Just watch the people there when the organ kicks off and the chorus unloads the first line.  The audience entirely gets what's going on and joins in, with delight.

This is a meditation on the upcoming holiday.  The Lord Messiah was not sent for a small elite, he was sent for everyone, even shopping mall patrons.  The music of this coming day is one that everyone is invited to join in.  For those that want a more Symphony Hall version, delivered by professionals to a passive audience, here's a quite good one.  You can see the audience standing as the music begins, but while White Tie is very elegant indeed, it lacks the pure participatory joy of the flash mob (but makes up for it with a pretentious introduction by the snotty conductor.  Watch it anyway - it's backed up by artillery from a full trumpet battery). 

But even this performance - of a symphony on stage singing to a passive audience - even this gets no standard ovation.  The audience roars their approval, because they understand that this triumphant music is ours.  After all, it was written by perhaps the first Rock Star.

And all I can say is "Amen" - which fortunately the first Rock Star thoughtfully included in his Oratorio.  It begins with what can only be described as the theological closing parentheses to the opening that you have just heard.  Then it ends with what may be the finest classical music ever written.  The part that starts around 6:30 is what I think is the most spiritually moving music ever written.

On this Sunday before Christmas I hope you find this as inspiring as I do.  We are surrounded by marvels, marvels that are not to be viewed from a distance but rather to be grasped to our souls. Marvels written by Rock Stars.  Marvels to sing along with.  Go ahead - the video even displays the score for you.  The Lord doesn't care if you're on key or not.  After all, this coming Holy Day is not for an elite, it's for us.  Theologically speaking, I mean.  It's glorious.  Join in the Glory.



Ken said...

Beautifully said, Borepatch. Last winter or the one before, I missed the Hallelujah flash mob at the West Side Market in Cleveland by about an hour and a half. I gather they passed out lyric sheets to willing volunteers just before firing it up.

Rev. Paul said...

Spot on, sir. Well said!

libertyman said...

Another post featuring beautiful, talented women.

I see a pattern here, BP.

A very nice pattern.

Overload in Colorado said...

If I ever make it to Philadelphia, I hope to hear the Wanamaker Organ at Macy's.