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Beethoven's 9th Symphony and The Ode to Joy

Ludwig van Beethoven's 9th Symphony was a masterpiece, considered by many to be his finest accomplishment. Composed towards the end of his life and despite being totally deaf, it was a passionate, emotive symbol of his democratic idealism and longing for a peaceful world. At the time a revolutionary romantic symphony, and one that captures a feeling of happiness and celebration, it lasts more than an hour, longer than most in those days, and is divided into four movements, but it is the fourth movement which is the most famous.

Described as a symphony within a symphony, because it retraces the complete structure of the composition, its choral finale, and this was the first time a major composer had used voices in a symphony, was the realization of Beethoven's goal from 1792 when, aged 22, he decided he wanted to compose a musical setting for German poet Friedrich von Schiller's idealistic poem with its vision of the unity of all mankind, An die Freude, Ode to Joy. A vision and ideals that Beethoven shared.

Ironically, as it is a musical symbol of idealism and universal brotherhood, the choral finale, Ode to Joy, has been motivational or favored music for examples as diverse as the Communists who thought it represented the spirit of their cause, Hitler because he interpreted it as characterizing his way of thinking, in Japan it gave kamikaze pilots courage but is now a New Years Eve tradition, it was played as a wartime symbol of democracy in the USA, used in the Die Hard film franchise and in 1989 chosen to mark the celebrations for the dismantling of the Berlin wall and the fall of communism.

And since June 29, 1985 Ode to Joy has been recognized by the European Union heads of State and governments as the European anthem, representing the community that has brought peace and freedom to its member countries.

From January 19, 1972 it had been the official anthem of the Council of Europe, an organization based in Strasbourg, France, which represents over 40 European countries in promoting human rights and cultural diversity, but the number of languages involved meant it was not possible to include Schiller's text. Using music as the universal language Herbert Von Karajan, a famous conductor of the time, wrote three instrumental arrangements of the composition, for symphony orchestra, solo piano and for wind instruments, and conducted the first official recording.

Although it is played increasingly on many occasions including official events and visits, treaty signings, some international sporting fixtures after the European team has won and every year on Europe Day, 9th May, Ode to Joy as the European Anthem does not replace those anthems belonging to the individual European Union countries, but is one of the symbols that celebrate their mutual values as well as their unity in diversity.

The prelude to Ode to Joy, the fourth movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's 9th symphony inspired by a fellow German, poet Friedrich von Schiller, an idealist who believed in the brotherhood of man, peace and unity, and composed by a man who was no longer able to hear, but who shared Schiller's vision and when young had been inspired by his words.

Ode to Joy's first verse in English, together with Friedrich von Schiller's original German version

Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Freude, schoener Goetterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brueder,
Wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt.

'Beethoven and Schiller's Ode to Joy', the beautiful and evocative piece of music which symbolizes the ideals of a United Europe, those of Peace, Freedom and Solidarity.

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis circa 1823, currently to be seen in Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Germany. Courtesy de.Wikipedia

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Content copyright © 2015 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Francine McKenna-Klein. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine McKenna-Klein for details.


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