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
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
“Hallelujah” is a song written by Leonard Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) a Canadian singer, songwriter, musician, painter, poet, and novelist, whose work dealt with religion, politics, isolation, sexuality, and relationships.
He was born into a middle-class Jewish family who told him, when he was a child, that he was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest
When a teenager, he became interested in the poetry of Federico García Lorca, learned to play the guitar and formed a country–folk group. Then he met a young Spanish flamenco guitar player who taught him “a few chords and some flamenco“, so he switched to classical guitar
He had various jobs but focused on the writing of fiction and poetry, and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive conditions in his house on Hydra, a Greek island. In 1967, disappointed with his lack of financial success as a writer, he moved to the United States to pursue a career as a folk music singer and songwriter.
In 1994, Cohen retreated to a Zen Centre near Los Angeles, where he became a Zen Buddhist monk and spent five years of seclusion.
Among his most famous songs: “Hallelujah”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Bird on the Wire”.
“Hallelujah”, which figures among a multitude of film soundtracks and television shows, experienced renewed interest after Cohen’s death in November 2016.
In its original version, the song evokes both early rock & roll and gospel music. Cohen worked on this song for five years, wrote around 80 draft verses to choose from and picked the best four.
His original version contains several biblical references, evoking the stories of Samson and Delilah from the Book of Judges (“she cut your hair”) as well as King David and Bathsheba (“you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you”).
Following his original 1984 studio-album version, Cohen often performed it with quite different sets of lyrics. His view that “many different hallelujahs exist” is also reflected in all of its covers, because the singers that have sung it have often used different verses, choosing to put emphasis on happiness or sadness and loss, or life and love, depending on those particular verses. There is no one clear interpretation on the meaning of this song, because, like many works of art, it is deep and complex and suggests different things to different people.
For example, the sorrowful yet sensuous rendition by American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, which made the song famous, is a beautiful reflection on love, life on earth, sex and also grace.
Bob Dylan was among the first to perform Cohen’s song in concert in 1988.
This song deals with the great amount of energy necessary in a relationship which can lead to a breakdown, and combines the love between a man and a woman with the love between mankind and God.
The melody is often heard in churches across America, where instrumental versions are played by organists. However, even if musically it follows the pattern of traditional hymns, and the lyrics are filled with religious imagery (especially the title), they are rarely appropriate in that setting, since it is not a worship song.
Leonard Cohen explained: “Hallelujah is a Hebrew word which means ‘Glory to the Lord.’ The song explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs do exist. I say: All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value. It’s a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion.”
This word has a lot of nuances in its meaning: it can express awe, inspiration, gratitude, praise, or even, in some cases, sarcasm or derision. It is repeated several times, but it is not just a “filler” word, since it is the core word of the whole song. Every verse ends in the word Hallelujah, and each of them is different.