Even if you are not a fan or say you hate symphonies, you should express appreciation for Ode to Joy. Beethoven was a prodigy as a boy, but he also wrote great music, like the 4th. and last movement of his 9th. Symphony, late in life when all but completely deaf. He never really heard his own great master work. At the end of the first major performance, people had to turn him in the direction of the cheering crowds, because he couldn’t hear them either.

Here is a link, but you may want to go to minute 5 when the most familiar part slowly begins. Also skip the man singing a solo part in German and go instead to minute 8.

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 – Mvt. 4 – Barenboim/West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – Bing video

How’s that for great seventeen century rock-and-roll?

Beethoven took inspiration from a poem written in the seventeen-hundreds by Friedrich Schiller. The poem follows:

Ode to Joy

Joy, beautiful spark of Divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly one, thy sanctuary!
Thy magic binds again
What custom strictly divided;
All people become brothers,
Where thy gentle wing abides.

Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt,
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a lovely wife,
Add his to the jubilation!
Yes, and also whoever has just one soul
To call his own in this world!
And he who never managed it should slink
Weeping from this union!

All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breasts.
All the Just, all the Evil
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us and grapevines,
A friend, proven in death.
Ecstasy was given to the worm
And the cherub stands before God.

Gladly, as His suns fly
through the heavens’ grand plan
Journey, brothers, on your way,
Joyful, like a hero to victory.

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss to all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Are you collapsing, millions?
Do you sense the creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy!
Above stars must He dwell.

The poem by Schiller is undeniably religious, attributing the source of human joy to the Almighty, but some scholars argue that Beethoven had in mind the first version of Schiller’s poem which was entitled Ode to Freedom and not Ode to Joy. These are the things scholars get into fist fights about.

It is an on-going academic conjecture whether Schiller used “joy” as code for “freedom” during those revolutionary years in Europe and whether Beethoven did the same.

It is indisputable, however, that Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has remained a protest anthem and is often played and heard as emblematic of the ongoing quest for freedom and solidarity.

As usual the forces of secularism and religion have found themselves at odds over something that should just be enjoyable and uplifting. For instance, in 1991 a sect of Buddhist priests in Japan sought to excommunicate a related secular group for the “offense” of heresy for playing Ode to Joy at secular meetings and ceremonies.