Thursday, April 30, 2009

[rev.] Halleluja

Leonard Cohen is a powerful poet. One can argue about his qualities as a vocal performer; since I don't think opera or Broadway has a corner on quality, he's fine in my book. The Essential Leonard Cohen is on my Amazon Shopping List, and I'm struggling whether or not to buy it before the end of the school year, as a present to myself for finishing without totally losing my mind... or whether I ought to buy it now, because after losing my mind I'll .....

The whole reason I'm considering buying this album is because it has this Hallelujah. Perhaps I should say I really want that one track, and at $14, a 2-CD package of tons of other stuff is almost irresistible.

Hallelujah: There are countless arrangements on this theme. Going back 1800 years or so. This is the music/prayer sung immediately before reading the Gospel during Mass. The joyous celebration that there is a word of god to hear. We want to connect with the divine. Handel's glorious chorus is often what one imagines: perky happiness of the entire soul passionately seeing some true expression of joy.

But we aren't always (in fact, probably rarely) happy when searching for a way to connect with god ... What is one to do, looking at death, misery and the desecration if not destruction of the world, if one is trying to sing to the glory of God?

I recommend the Randal Thompson composition from 1948-ish. It was commissioned before World War 2, and actually written afterwards. It is mournful, very slow, in a minor key and anything other than joyous. Although it does perk up at the very end to "not morosely slow", perhaps having found some solace in the completion of sorrow.

Cohen's piece I believe, truly brings forth the sorrow of searching, and perhaps not finding, a god to praise. 'yearning but helpless prayer' was used to describe one of his more recent songs. The use of simple music behind the vocals in the verses mimics the minimalistic presence of god at times, erupting into a resigned but emphatic chorus of "Halleluja". Although, as the word is so often associated with Christianity, I do wonder if people notice neither of the figures referred to are Christian? Not a surprise, as he's a Jew; yet it appeals to my Catholic visceral response.

It doesn’t matter which you heard,
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much,
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but

I love the phrase "the broken halleluja".

The use of this in the recent flick "Watchmen" is nicely poignant. A paean to lost opportunities consummated perhaps too late in life.


Anonymous said...

Oooops. Are you referring to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from "The Messiah" when you cited Beethoven's? Beethoven really isn't famous for a Hallelujah that I'm aware of, just the "Ode to Joy" from the 9th.

Gopher MPH said...

Ooooooops. Yes, I was thinking of Handel.