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Date: July 16th, 2007


16 July, 2007 (3:41pm) | Blog | 13 comments

n 1984, Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen released an album called Various Positions. On that album was the first recorded version of a song that is considered by some to be the most beautiful song ever written, called Hallelujah.

The song contains many religions references to people like David and Bathsheba, and Samson and Delilah, and talks a lot about the shallow love between humans. Then the chorus comes in with the refrain “Hallelujah”. Is there really any way to compare the selfish love of one human for another to the righteous, holy, and pure love of God?

But, the beautiful lyrics of the song would be nothing without music that compliments them. Cohen succeeds masterfully. He captures the entire tone of the song with a hauntingly pure progression of masterfully written chords. The verses telling of the futile struggles of man are played in a slightly dark tone that leads into the pure major chord chorus, that contains feelings of triumph and beauty.

Even the mathmatics of the song are coupled perfectly with the lyrics:

“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah”

He’s describing the chord progression of the song itself.

Here are the chords he is playing for one line:
“It goes like this (C major), the fourth (F major), the fifth (G major), the minor fall (A minor) and the major lift (F major)“.

C is the key the song is played in. This is the key of C:

1- C
2- D
3- E
4- F
5- G
6- A
7- B
8- C

This is the progression of that line:

(C major)(F major)(G major)(A minor)(F major)

(1) C major is the beginning of the progression, it explains how the song goes.
(2) F major is the fourth.
(3) G major is the fifth.
(4) A minor is the relative minor of C, you are making the C note drop (or “fall”) to A.
(5) The last F major is the creme da la creme of his genious:
-A minor, is made up of the notes A, C, and E.
-F major is made up of the notes, F, A, and C.
-To change chords from A minor to F major, you move the E up one note, (or “lift” it, if you will)


“It goes like this” (C major, the base chord of the song)
“the fourth” (F major is the fourth)
“the fifth” (G major is the fifth)
“the minor fall” (A minor – the C major is “falling” into A minor)
“and the major lift” (A minor is “lifting” into F major)

As for the rest of the line “The baffled king composing Hallelujah”, and the concept of a “secret chord”:

The kinnor, or lyre, was the instrument that David played the most, and was associated with joyful music only. Furthermore, because of the pentatonical tuning of the strings, David wouldn’t have been able to play the minor chords on it even if he’d wanted to. And even then, he wouldn’t because the tonal system that makes it possible didn’t exist for another 18 centuries at least. So, the whole concept of that chord progression was a “secret” to everyone.

It is a beautiful marriage of music and poetry, describing David himself composing “hallelujah”. A peice of music that he can’t even understand. For who can really understand Gods love? And who can truely say “hallelujah” to the Almighty without the Spirit enabled them to do so?

It truly is baffling.

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.”
– Psalm 145:3

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”
– Job 11:7

Note: The quintessential version of the song is Jeff Buckley’s cover from his 1994 album Grace. Listen to it.

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