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Handel's Hallelujah Chorus has gained recognition in America as representative of the Christmas season, but this seasonal association is contrary to the composer's intentions for the piece. Handel's placement of the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of Part 2 of Messiah indicates that he meant it to celebrate Christ's Passion and Resurrection, not his Nativity. This thesis demonstrates how three factors contributed significantly to the American appropriation of the Hallelujah Chorus for Christmas by the late nineteenth century: American audiences' familiarity with the chorus even before the arrival of Messiah in its entirety, America's increasing freedom from English performance conventions and treatment of the oratorio, and changes in the nature of Americans' celebrations of the Christmas holiday. The Hallelujah Chorus was introduced to America in 1770 and spread rapidly through the Eastern United States. By the time the entire oratorio arrived in Boston in 1818, the chorus had already become the most popular ending piece for choral concerts in America's musical capitals. Following just slightly after Messiah's debut was a change in the celebration of Christmas. These changes helped to make popular seasonal performances of Messiah, quickly transforming it into a Christmas oratorio. The American context thus allowed the appropriation of the Hallelujah Chorus for Christmas. Through the inclination to define a creative culture that was independent from England's during the nineteenth century, Americans treated the English musical heritage in distinctive ways. Simultaneously, America was experiencing a major shift in cultural values associated with Christmas. These elements aligned to create a context that changed the meaning of an iconic piece of music.
A Thesis submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music.
Includes bibliographical references.
Douglass Seaton, Committee Member; Michael Broyles, Committee Member; Charles E. Brewer, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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