When a presiding judge enters a courtroom, the bailiff insists that we stand to our feet and remain standing until the judge is seated. This is out of respect for the dignity of the robe. We stand when we pledge allegiance to our flag and when we sing our national anthem out of loyalty and pride. Monarchs and heads of state around the globe would be offered such an honor as well.
So why do we stand when the “Hallelujah Chorus” is played or sung? Well, first a little background on the work from which it came.
Composer George Frederic Handel wrote Messiah as an Easter oratorio in 1741 and it was performed the following year in Dublin, Ireland, as a benefit concert for a charity hospital.
The work, in three parts or acts, tells the story of Jesus Christ. Beginning with the prophecies about His coming and earthly ministry, the work moves to the second part, which begins with the passion of Christ and ends with His ascension. This is where the “Hallelujah Chorus” is positioned in the oratorio. Part 3 finishes the story with Jesus’ second coming.
In 1743 the work was presented in London for the first time. King George II of England was in attendance. The king was himself used to the accolades and signs of respect from loyal subjects, but what he did when the “Hallelujah Chorus” was being performed was unprecedented, if not outright peculiar. He stood up and remained standing throughout the piece. The audience, observing royal protocol, followed suit.
Of course, there is some conjecture as to why the king stood that night. One theory is that it was a mistake—that he had simply dozed off, heard the downbeat of the song, and woke with a start. Another is that he had been sitting for too long and was simply standing to stretch his legs. There are other theories but one that is the most endearing: King George wanted to stand and honor the King of kings and Lord of lords, as the lyric so states.
In any case, the tradition began and has continued. In fact, 100 years later, Queen Victoria of England rose from her wheelchair to honor the same King of kings and Lord of lords.
The text of this great musical masterpiece “Hallelujah Chorus” is from Revelation.
Hallelujah: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth is found in Revelation 19:6.
The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever is from Revelation 11:15.
King of kings, and Lord of lords can be found in Revelation 19:16.