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Hallelujah Chorus

In the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah, according to both the Watkins Shaw and the Schirmer editions, the dynamic marking at the beginning is forte for the Hallelujahs, yet a few conductors seem to want to have every second Hallelujah sung piano or even pianimisio.  Has any one out there have an explanation for this?
Many thanks
Jim
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on April 15, 2014 7:42am
The Baroque practice of terraced dynamics perhaps? What a unique way to treat this war horse! Alternating the hallelujas between choir and antiphonal choir would also be interesting and even "heavenly"! Mike Carson has an adapted version of this chorus for SATB and ORGAN MANUALS (or optional piano) with choral parts edited by Justin Bills (in the key of D) at Jackman Music Publishers: http://jackmanmusic.com/shop-jmc/#!/~/product/id=15889968. 
 
Yours truly,
MC
on April 15, 2014 8:28am
Jim,
I am not sure of the history, but I would say, "Conduct it how your heart feels it!" (It has been done so many different ways...  )
You could conduct the mezzo-pianos passages as symbol of whispered awe for shimmering aspen leaves, heartfelt intimate conversations, pipsisiwaw [ a lovely tiny pale-lavender flower that is about 1/4 inch in diameter and grows close to the ground), birdsong, those times when we narrowly escape [ whew!], gentle rain mist, barely-noticed Good-Samaritan acts, charming towns, and wonderful glances...
You could conduct the fortissimo to grandly affirm the Sequoyah trees, the people with "big hearts" who do wonderful things, the ocean waves, towering-booming cities, all the times in the world when we have not reacted in violence {and/or to affirm all the hopes and prayers that we will continue finding better ways}
 
(Life has give and take, ebb and flow, and our vocal health can reflect that. ;)
 
Or...you may feel it as a different pattern.  Handel wrote the "poem", but as the conductor, you are the actor-reader... to show us what you see and feel in it.
 
Handel left it up to us, n'est-ce pas?   What a beautiful way to share an opportunity!
 
 
Bles-Sings,
-Lucy
 
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on April 15, 2014 1:34pm
The text gives really only one reason for all the "Hallelujahs"...."For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth"  and "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.  And He shall reign forever and ever."  And all this text has a context....it follows a long section on the long standing struggle between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of the Lord, and the Lord is victorious.  Those may not be politically correct concepts, but they are honest to the text and the music as written.  Just a thought.
 
 
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on April 17, 2014 8:38am
I totally agree with Joy .....you are exactly right.....may not be politically correct.....but it is so true!!!!!!   Also  I incorporate two slight changes (does anyone dare to improve on Handel????).....I decrease the tempo slightly on the section "the kingdom of this world is become" and then bring it back up to tempo when the basses come in on "and He shall reign forever".  As a choral technique, I also have the bases and tenors sing together on that entrance, then the altos join the tenors on their entrance, the sopranos join the altos on their entrance and then the sopranos sing their phrase by themselves.  I think it adds to the "power" of the entrances and punctuates the clearity of the statements.  AND at the very end....I have the choir hold the chord on the last Hallelujah, cutting out the accompaniment and then bringing the accompaniment (organ and or brass) when the choir sings"lu" before the "jah".  It just adds dramatic effect to the end!
 
BTW......I purchased online a very fine arrangement for 4-part Brass (2 Trumpets/2 Trombones) to accompany the Hallelujah Chorus.  It is arrangement that does not compete with the chorus or the organ....it compliments.  total cost was $26.00 for a score and parts.  McDaniel is the arranger.  Well written, but the players need to have good skills to play it well.
on April 15, 2014 8:49am
Look at the chorus in context:  it is a powerful victory cry of the believers over the non-believers and earthly powers.  In my opinion, terrace dynamics and echo effects would undermine the triumphant character of the piece.  I use an occasional mezzo-forte to "restart" some of the contrapuntal sections, but otherwise let it be big and grand.  Above all, it mustn't become precious. It's almost bloodthirsty. 
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on April 17, 2014 3:12am
There was something of a convention in Baroque music, when a phrase was repeated immediately and identically, to vary its dynamic. On occasion, composers even wrote contrasting forte/piano markings. (Which begs the question, if they felt the need to mark the dynamics, was it really such a convention after all?) In today's historically-informed performance environment, some people take this practice to an (historically unjustified) extreme, varying the dynamic of every repeated gesture. Judge for yourself.
 
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
 
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
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