Out in the car yesterday, I managed to catch, by pure fluke, a repeat of the best radio programme of the year so far — a quirky Radio 4 piece by the composer Jocelyn Pook, who compoased creepy atmospheric music for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, on the word Hallelujah. She considered its origins and inherent properties as a singing word, visited Jeremy Schonfeld, a Jewish Cantor and teacher from Cambridge, who sang a beautiful inpromptu Hebrew Psalm 117, before heading out through Leonard Coehn, to the Hallelujah Chorus, both in its original form and jazzed up excellently by a Gospel Choir from Tottenham.
“It means more than what you’re trying to say,” said one enthusiastic Gospel choir member. Leonard Cohen himself put in an appearance to talk about an 80’s working lunch in Paris with Bob Dylan, at which he told Dylan it had taken him two years to write ‘Hallelujah,’ although in fact, he confided to us, it had actually taken rather longer. Cohen then asked about his favourite spiritually loaded Dylan song, “I and I,” and Dylan revealed writing that had taken him... er, fifteen minutes. Don’t you just love it when that kind of thing happens to you?
She also discussed Handel’s alleged religious experience whilst composing the Hallelujah Chorus, where he was found by a servant in tears, having “seen the face of God.” Anyone who can copose two and a half hours of oratorio in three weeks must be on something interesting.
Whilst this was going on Pook composed for the programme a stunning atmospheric short piece of her own around the word “Hallelujah”, with strings and a female singer weaving music around the Cantor’s recitation of Psalm 117. The result, now available on iTunes, was rather magical — the kind of radio they only really do in the UK, as it is of zero commercial interest, but 100% soul food. God bless the BBC!
iPlayer users can catch the programme for a week here.