If you ask someone what their favorite piece of choral music is, chances are you’re going to get something on a short list. Beethoven’s 9th, Bach’s mass in B minor, etc. However, if you then ask, “What about the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’?”, you’ll often see some confusion and internal conflict (assuming that Handel’s monster wasn’t their choice in the first place). Yeah, it’s that good.

But why is it that good? There are a zillion pieces of music that are powerful and uplifting so what pushes this one up to the top of the list for so many people, especially those who sing it? It’s the Blogmeister’s number one with a bullet, that’s for sure, so I decided to pick my (somewhat limited) brain to see why that is.

  • It roars in and grabs you. The quick intro of the orchestra is absolutely blown to smithereens by the opening notes of the choir. They’re not complex or difficult to sing, which leaves every voice to deliver that first series of “hallelujah” with power and confidence. Bam. Here you go. Get ready for a ride.
  • The opening sections are relentless. You get knocked back by the first lines and then the choir combines all the voices in unison to knock you back even further: “for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” puts the pedal to the floor and then when it starts being interspersed with the “hallelujah” lines again keeps it there.
  • You feel like you get a little break in the chorale-like section “the kingdom”, but you’re wrong because it’s just plain gorgeous. It smacks a different part of your brain, but you really aren’t getting a chance to catch your breath.
  • And then the men haul back and slam you with “and he shall reign forever”. Bam. Here you go again. You know you’re in for it now.
  • When it all comes together with the weavings of “hallelujah” and “forever…and ever” you start to feel things building toward something big. Really big. When “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” starts drawing a line right through the middle of it all there’s a growing tension that just winds itself tighter and tighter.
  • The hammer at the end comes in its own special way. “Forever and ever” gets bigger and bolder as it’s raised higher and higher above the shoulders of the wielder of the hammer (which also seems to grow; it starts as a pretty darned big one and quickly becomes a sledgehammer of scary size and heft). Just when it’s raised up and is poised for the big slam…silence for just a second. Just long enough to have your heart skip a beat or two. And then it falls with the final drawn-out “hallelujah”. Insert a bit of an earthquake here.

When you get it right, the choir is totally gassed, the orchestra is sitting in little puddles of their own sweat and even the audience is a little out of breath. I’ve sung a lot of great pieces of over the years but never one that blends simplicity, beauty and raw power as the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Not even close. Regardless of your theological leanings, there’s no other word for it but “inspired”.

And always…”inspiring”.