Inquiring Minds - Handel's Messiah

Handel's MessiahEvery week, librarian Judy Woodward compiles the most interesting reference questions and sends them to the Roseville Review.  Here's this week's holiday-appropriate question!

Q.  At Christmas, I went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Why did everyone stand up when they played the Hallelujah Chorus?

A.  The short answer is---they stood up because that’s the custom. Nobody really knows why (or if) the original audience sprang to its feet at the first rousing notes of the great chorus, but the custom has been around for a long time. According to the music critic of the Boston Globe, audiences were already leaping up for the chorus by 1750, less than a decade after the Messiah was introduced in 1742. One theory has it that Britain’s King George II was so moved by the chorus that he rose in reverence---and protocol dictated that everyone else in the hall follow the royal example.

Conductor Robert Shaw of the Robert Shaw Chorale scoffed at that idea and said that King George was simply carried away by the looming prospect of the intermission. As might be guessed, Shaw was no fan of the custom, but millions of other concert goers are. Minnesota audiences---never shy about rising enthusiastically to their feet---appear to endorse the idea heartily. (Matthew Guerrieri, Boston Globe, 12/19/2009)


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