Video: Leonard Cohen’s 1988 Icelandic Hallelujah – Most Moving Performance Ever?



In Video: Leonard Cohen’s Gorgeous Performance Of Hallelujah – Reykjavik 1988, I wrote

For a fleeting moment in 2009, YouTube blessed us with a live video of Leonard Cohen performing Hallelujah at the June 24, 1988 Laugardalshöll, Reykjavik, Iceland concert. It was a particularly lovely version that impressed many viewers, inducing me. As we have experienced many times, however, YouTube giveth, and YouTube taketh away. All traces of Leonard Cohen’s 1988 Icelandic concert, including the performance of Hallelujah, have disappeared from YouTube and similar sites.

I have serendipitously come across another YouTube posting of the same video, albeit of lesser quality. Although it’s described on YouTube as having taken place in 1985, this appears to be a segment from the June 24, 1988 concert in Reykjavik, Iceland, which was used in a program broadcast on Icelandic TV. Included are bits of an interview, an Icelandic cover of “Hallelujah,” and, most importantly, a version of “Hallelujah”  sung by Cohen (with backup singers Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen) that is not only distinct from every other rendition of that song I’ve heard before but perhaps the most moving performance of  “Hallelujah” by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Make no mistake – the color is distorted, the editing clumsy, and the subtitles distracting, and we don’t get our first vision of Leonard singing until just past the 2 minute mark, but the live scenes of Leonard Cohen and backup singers, Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen, performing are overwhelmingly moving. (For the record, I believe my own version of this performance at Video: Leonard Cohen’s Gorgeous Performance Of Hallelujah – Reykjavik 1988 has its own merits and urge you to take a look if you haven’t seen it before.)

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
Reykjavik: June 24, 1988

Note: Originally posted Dec 18, 2009 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah Performed By Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason At 2017 Bafta Awards


At last night’s BAFTAs, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, winner of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016, played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah while images of artists who died in the past year were displayed on the screen. This video captures an earlier performance of Hallelujah by the same artist.

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Clive Davies & Adrian du Plessis, who alerted me to this tribute. Photo by Stuart Chalmers

Breaking News: Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah NOT To Be Used In Grammys In Memoriam Presentation


Perhaps the most convincing evidence that Hallelujah is the overwhelming favorite choice for indicating emotional significance in movies and television programs is a show making news by announcing that Leonard Cohen’s classic will NOT be used for an In Memoriam presentation. The following excerpt is from Inside Grammys Rehearsals: ‘I Hope It Will Be a Political Show,’ Producer Says by Steve Pond (The Wrap: Feb 10, 2017):

[Subtitle:] And Ken Ehrlich reveals why Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” will NOT play during In Memoriam segment

… And what about “Hallelujah,” the go-to song since that legendary songwriter’s passing in November? “I’d like to think that we’re kind of known for not doing things that are right on the money,” said Ehrlich. He declined to say that the song would never be heard, but said he had something else in the works for the In Memoriam montage.

“One Saturday I was listening to music and thinking about what we could do for In Memoriam, and ‘God Only Knows’ came on, and all of a sudden it hit me,” he said. “If you think of the words not in the context of lost love, but loss, it takes on a whole new meaning.

“So I went to John Legend and to Cynthia Erivo from [Broadway’s] ‘The Color Purple’ and said, ‘I’d like you to do the song out of tempo, slow.’ I’m telling you, it’s so beautiful. And yes, I’m sure some people will say, ‘Why didn’t they do “Hallelujah?”‘”

Credit Due Department: Photo by Dmileson, derivative work Dodro – Obra derivada: Ted Jensen’s 2002 Grammy.jpg, CC BY 4.0, via Wikipedia Commons

“[Leonard Cohen] is not hiding from sentiment; he’s getting out of its way”


In reality, he was a guy who always meant everything he was singing but also knew where he fit into the pop world — and that wasn’t alongside Barbra Streisand in any lung-busting competition. So Cohen relied on other musical tools to put emotion across, which in 1984 meant a primitive Casio synthesizer that gave ‘Hallelujah’ all the atmosphere of a storefront church. And guess what? You compare his version now to the dozens of others that have sprung up since and Cohen’s feels the most desperate and alive by far.quotedown2


From What did Leonard Cohen really mean when he sang ‘Hallelujah’? by Mikael Wood (LA Times: Nov 11, 2016). This is an especially well written, convincing article examining Leonard Cohen’s musical and lyrical construction of Hallelujah. Highly recommended.