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It’s 3 o’clock in the morning! » Hallelujah

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Hallelujah

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

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)

Therefore,

“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.

Comments

Comment from James
Time: 4 June 2008, 3:25 am

Nce, real interesting, heard that song and played that song a million times and never observed that. well done

Comment from Michael
Time: 4 June 2008, 8:48 am

Thanks!

Comment from Andrrew Wummel
Time: 17 July 2008, 8:30 am

This truly is a beautiful song, on of my favorites. very good observations, i’ve noticed a few myself.

Comment from jayme cowley
Time: 8 March 2009, 1:27 am

leonard cohen is a canadian songwriter. NOT an american songwriter.

Comment from Michael
Time: 9 March 2009, 8:14 pm

Ooop. Mah bad… Thanks for correcting that!

Comment from jean
Time: 20 May 2010, 9:58 am

very nicely written – but I think the secret is the Aflat (or G#) note added to the C major scale to create many secret chords – e.g. – E major leading into A minor (E, G sharp, B -* or C instead of B or whatever color note you want from the secret scale).

Another secret chord from the scale is G7 flat 9 – the flat 9 is the A flat – going into the C major -

See? The G# and Ab are the same note – you can create all kinds of beautiful chords by including that secret note into the C major scale -

Check out Barry Harris – he talks about it in jazz and calls it the C6 diminished scale – I think –

Gorgeous harmonies!

Comment from jean
Time: 20 May 2010, 10:00 am

PS -

Another way of talking about it is by talking about modes of the melodic minor especially the fourth mode of the melodic minor scale called the lydian dominant -

Comment from jean
Time: 20 May 2010, 10:02 am

PSS -

you could also say it’s all about tritones – i.e. the flat 5 or #4 of any note -

Cheerio!

Comment from jean
Time: 20 May 2010, 10:21 am

And diminished and dominant chords -

And whole tone scales/chords -

If you can wrap your head around it, much of it boils down to working with half steps, leading tones, that come from mixing together the tones from any dominant 7th scale and the dominant 7th scale built on its tritone -

As far as I know at the moment anyway -

CHeerrioo

Comment from Joel
Time: 6 June 2010, 3:54 am

Jean … what does any of that have to do with Hallelujah? I’m with ya on the theory, but have you heard the song? It’s just a simple diatonic song.

Comment from RACE
Time: 24 August 2010, 3:42 pm

…but have you considered the possibility of a satanic attempt to profane the unique praiseword for the Almighty Jehova? Why has no one commented on the explicit sexual references the song directly associates with that sacred word Hallelujah? Please play the original version again. Do you hear the ecstatic half-scream from the woman in a “broken Hallelujah”? And Leonard Cohen says that ‘it doesn’t matter’ even if he is taking ‘the name in vain’! Ask yourself why there was a necessity for claiming that the blaze in the word does not matter whether it is uttered ‘holy’ or ‘broken’ – apparently, to him, ecstacy is ecstacy whether it is offered ‘holy’ [sic, wholly as in 'Hallelujah'] to Yahweh or ejaculated ‘broken’ [as in 'aaargh...!'] to ‘the lord of song’ [Lucifer remember was the top angel of God and head of the heavenly choir, among other charisms before his attempted coup d├ętat that ended in his fall from heaven]. If you conclude I am just another fundamentalist Christian out on yet another fanatical bellyache, ask yourself what Cohen intended by all those half-meanings, which mix the sacred with the profane…

Comment from Michael
Time: 24 August 2010, 4:24 pm

RACE, I don’t think that is the case at all. In the words of Cohen himself:

“This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled, but there are moments when we can transcend the dualistic system and reconcile and embrace the whole mess and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’. That regardless of what the impossibility of the situation is, there is a moment when you open your mouth and you throw open your arms and you embrace the thing and you just say ‘Hallelujah! Blessed is the name.’ And you can’t reconcile it in any other way except in that position of total surrender, total affirmation.

“That’s what it’s all about. It says that you’re not going to be able to work this thing out. This realm does not admit to revolution. There’s no solution to this mess. The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say ‘Look, I don’t understand a fucking thing at all – Hallelujah!’ That’s the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

Comment from RACE
Time: 1 October 2010, 8:20 pm

Well, Michael, I sincerely hope so. It would be a pity if such an excellent piece of musical poetry were to be diminished by dark motives.

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