One of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world is George Frideric Handel’s Messiah (1742). Its five-minute “Hallelujah Chorus,” which is often performed as a separate piece, as become a Christmas standard for public performance, and every young homescholar at this season, whether religious or secular, should learn to recognize it. Here’s a sparkly, brassy performance led by the popular conductor and violinist André Rieu:
December is Homeschool Holiday Music Month in the River Houses, and throughout the month we’re sharing an assortment of seasonal favorites in a great variety of styles and genres — classical and modern, sacred and secular, serious and silly — along with a collection of easy educational notes that will let you teach little musical lessons all along the way.
Handel’s Messiah is not a symphony nor an opera, but an oratorio. If you send your students to your family dictionary they will discover that an oratorio is “a musical composition for voices and orchestra, telling a usually sacred story without costumes, scenery, or dramatic action” (which makes it less expensive to put on than an opera). The full Messiah, which runs about two and a half hours, tells the entire biblical story of Christ, and it is regularly performed in concert halls around the world. Here’s a grand live recording made last year at the Sydney Opera House in Australia (one of our previously featured World Heritage Sites):
The “Hallelujah Chorus,” the part of the Messiah that most people know best, comes near the end of the second of the oratorio’s three parts, and it runs only about five minutes. It’s a favorite not only of professional musicians but also of school and college choirs and amateur singing groups of all kinds.
What is perhaps the most famous musical rest — the most famous silent pause — in the entire classical repertoire occurs just before the last four notes of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” You heard it above in Rieu’s performance at the 3:05 mark. Keep Handel’s Great Rest in mind, because when we finally wrap up our Holiday Music Month on Twelfth Night you’ll encounter it again, in a very different context. (One of the deepest purposes of a liberal education is to enable people to get jokes. 🍐🌳)
The text of the “Hallelujah Chorus” is based on parts of just three short New Testament verses (Revelation 11:15, 19:6, and 19:16), and Handel repeats these lines and intertwines them, making it seem like the voices are circling around one another over and over:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever, King of kings, and Lord of lords. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! — Hallelujah!
Once your students learn to recognize the “Hallelujah Chorus” they’ll have a musical friend for life — and it’s a good friend to have, because you never know where it may turn up:
What marvelous musical discoveries have you been making in your homeschool during this delightful Holiday Music Month? 🎄 🎵
❡ Musical memories: If you’d like to fill your homeschool with some beautiful background sounds during the holidays, why not tune in to the 24-hour Holiday Channel from WQXR, the famous classical music station in New York City. “Enjoy the sounds of orchestras, choirs, brass ensembles and more as we celebrate the sacred and secular sounds of the season.” I have it on as background music almost all day. Won’t you join me? 📻
❡ Lift every voice: This is one of our occasional posts on Homeschool Arts & Music. Add your name to our weekly mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🗞