Messiah is written in three sections. The first part concerns the prophecy, birth and early ministry of Jesus, the second his crucifixion, death and resurrection and the third various twiddlings from the Book of Revelation. Hallelujah - the bit everyone knows from this expansive work - closes the second section in the seventh scene known as God's Triumph and usually, as tradition demands, brings the audience to its feet.
Why does this happen? There is a legion of theories put forward, the most enduring of which is that King George II got to his feet to relieve the gout that was giving him gyp, at which point protocol demanded that everyone else should rise too. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not. I have my own theory though; people get up here because they know they are in the presence of something bigger than anyone in the room.
No, I haven't found religion or anything crazy like that - but unless you have ever been in a room where they are playing this staggering piece of art it will never make sense. The music sounds huge. Forget about amplifiers and off-floor speaker systems that can project thousands of watts of sonic energy into a mass of bouncing people; this sounds massive because it is, not because it has to be made to appear that way. The one time I heard it performed, it was being played by what seemed to be an orchestra and a half, together with a choir of about fifty voices in a concert hall that could barely fit them all in on the stage. Maybe the 'audience rising' business was dictated by tradition, but it felt right. By doing it we all (I am sure) felt like we were taking part, and somehow adding to the event. I was about ten years old at the time and I got a glimpse of something important. I'm not part of the music but it feels like it. What about the musicians? They may be making the musical noises but George Handel wrote it and dictated how it ought to be created, so maybe they are servants to the sound as much as I was. Maybe George Handel was too. Maybe...just maybe...that sound lingers around, waiting endlessly for someone clever enough to capture it and pin it to the earth.
King George II might have got up on his feet because his gout was playing up, but it might also have been because he thought the music sounded so wonderful - and that is my favourite take on the event. The story also goes that George Handel was found in tears by his assistant when writing this movement, saying only 'I thought I saw the face of God'.
This is also available on YouTube.
Instrumentation: Mellotron M400 Playing