Why does the audience stand during the Hallelujah Chorus?

A few weeks ago I went to listen to a choir sing Messiah (not the whole thing, I don’t have the patience or the time) and just at the good part, people started standing up. Which was actually kinda cool, it sort of fit the moment.

Does this happen often? Do people stand during certain parts of other classical music? I’m a R&B, classic rock concert girl myself. We stand whenever we want during those performances.

Tradition holds that when Handel premeired the work, the King (of England, forget which one), liked “Hallelujah” so much he stood up. Nobody remains seated when the king stands, so the audience stood too.

(This is how I’ve always heard it told, although it was always an “everyone knows” kind of a thing, so it may be urban legend.)

Then the king stage dove into the mosh pit.

7th inning stretch?

George II was the king in question, and the version of the legend I’ve heard says it wasn’t intentional – he needed to stretch or use the bathroom or something. But, with the king setting the mode of proper behavior, everybody stood when he did.

A tentative nitpick … Handel premiered Messiah on 13th April 1742 at the Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin. While I couldn’t swear to it, I suspect that George II wasn’t in Dublin on that date (actually I wouldn’t be surprised if he never visited the city). Presumably the traditional explanation - which I have also heard trotted out before - is meant to refer to some later performance in London.

The version I heard was that G II was tone deaf, and he stood because he thought it was the national anthem.

The following page covers most of the relevant points.


In particular, it quotes what is claimed to be the earliest surviving reference to the tradition. This comes from a letter written in 1780.

What makes this interesting is that it implies that it was the audience who stood because they were ‘so transported’ and not just the king. Even if one assumes that George II was present - and that has itself been questioned - it need not follow that he was the first to stand. Standing while the king remained seated would not have been a breach of etiquette in the way remaining seated while he stood would have been.

Of course, attributing it all to the king’s response makes for a better story. All the speculation as to why he stood are obviously later additions of the sort which can be varied endlessly. One should also not make the mistake of assuming that George II was some ignorant, uncultured buffoon - there is increasing recognition among Handel scholars that George’s musical patronage needs to be taken more seriously.

Slight hijack - the reason guys wearing very formal suits should always leave the bottom button of their vest/waistcoat undone is that Edward VII (some say George III) grew too fat to do his up, so everyone else did likewise.

Which monarch was it who drank from hi finger bowl at dinner - prompting everyone else to do the same?

I had heard that this was Charles the Fat but at least one site I looked at also said George III

Again - the version that I heard was of Paul Kruger - the President of the Republic of the Transvaal visiting Queen Victoria. He drank, so she drank (not to make him feel “uncultured”) and it became acceptable.


So the standing thing happens for the same reason that “eyether” is an acceptable pronounciation for the word “either”.

Or, a few people did it once and now everybody does it. I was reading about Messiah on the link provided (and other ones). One site said that the Hallelujah Chorus is actually about Easter and not Christmas. I always thought of it as a Christmas song (although the free performance I saw was around Easter time.)

Anyhoo. . . thanks for the info.

The Messiah encompasses Jesus’ whole life. I don’t recall where exactly in the work the Hallelujah Chorus falls, though - it’s been a very long time since I’ve sung it.

Googling about this, I found a site describing the Messiah’s parts: http://www.ao.net/~jmo/john/music/handel.html

It looks like the Hallelujah Chorus is in anticipation of the second coming, the ultimate triumph over evil, and so on, if I’m reading this correctly and if the site author is interpreting the work properly.

I used an instrumental version of the Hallelujah Chorus as the recessional in my wedding, because I knew at that point we’d just be happy that was all over with. :wink:

Well, yes, but then again, you can say the same thing of any pronunciation of any word in any language. I don’t think your analogy is very helpful.

To be honest, I had no idea that this was a tradition. My wife and I attend a performance of The Messiah every year, but it’s one of those sing-along concerts, so the audience stands up for all the chorus parts (although typically, after the whole thing is over, we barrel through the “Hallelujah!” section again, since it’s the one nobody ever gest lost doing :slight_smile: )

Sorry I wasn’t very helpful to you, psycho.

However, the same thing cannot be said for the pronunciation of any word in any language. I was refering to the legend that the word “either” was pronounced e-ther until England got themselves a German speaking king. He pronounced the word “eyether”. Since he was the king, everyone began pronouncing the word that way also, thus making both pronunciations of the word acceptable.