The Sound of Friendship: Beethoven’s „Ode to Joy“


Whenever there is reason to celebrate on a festive scale, a dramatic sound scape must not be missing. Worldwide, solemn ceremonies are carried by Beethoven’s „Ode to Joy“ (Ode an die Freude), being played by enthusiastic orchestras and sung by effervescent choirs in front of a mesmerised audience. Since its debut in Vienna in 1824, the compassionate tune and emotional lyrics manifested themselves as the epitome of the brotherhood of man.

Before the music: Friedrich v. Schiller’s lyrics came first

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) was still a teenager when, in 1785, German poet and playwright Friedrich v. Schiller authored his empathic ballad „Freude schoener Goetterfunken“. In ardent words he expressed his vision of a humankind bonded through a ribbon of friendship („Alle Menschen werden Brueder“), united in a realm by the name of „Elysium“. In Greek mythology this is a place – or state – where absolute happiness prevails. What could seem more logical for Beethoven than to set the poem to ebullient music and to make the Ode to Joy the undisputed highlight of his 9th symphony; it is said to have taken him long six years to finish.


Ode to Joy: the Anthem of Europe

Unintentionally, the Ode to Joy became the composite created in independent team work by two blessed geniuses. In 1972, the theme was adopted by what is now the EU, serving as its official anthem. It is still only used in its instrumental version, since no common language could yet be determined within this multilingual community. The original lyrics have been translated by almost every nation on the globe into their native tongues.

Som Sabadell: a Spanish Flashmob rejoicing

Singing along is comparably easy as far as the melody is concerned. Yet, being able to recite the text may elicit genuine admiration by the not-so-versed. Why not give it a try and join in with the enthused citizens of Sabadell, a town in Catalonia/Spain? Lyrics in German and English are below.

See what a contagious piece of music evokes in people and watch their faces change from bafflement to glee in this touching flashmob video „Som Sabadell“ shown on Youtube (don’t forget to turn up the volume to “thunderous”):

The first musicians appearing in a flashmob in Spain

Flashmob in Sabadell: one by one the musicians flock in…This photo is a screenshot taken from the video. ©belongs to the person/s who produced it.

The first four verses of “An die Freude” in German:

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.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
an den Bruesten der Natur,
Alle Guten, alle Boesen
folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Kuesse gab sie uns und Reben,
einen Freund, geprueft im Tod.
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Freude heißt die starke Feder
in der ewigen Natur.
Freude, Freude treibt die Raeder
in der großen Weltenuhr.
Blumen lockt sie aus den Keimen,
Sonnen aus dem Firmament,
Sphaeren rollt sie in den Raeumen,
die des Sehers Rohr nicht kennt!

Full text:

And here comes the easy part for English-speakers. This is not a translation of the official German text, but rather a poem in its own right written by Henry van Dyke in 1907, so as to match Beethoven’s famous tune:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
God of Glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Opening to the Sun above,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
stars and angels sing around Thee,
center of unbroken praise:
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain,
call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving,
ever blessing, ever blest,
well-spring of the joy of living,
ocean-depth of happy rest!
Thou the Father, Christ our Brother,
all who live in love are Thine:
Teach us how to love each other,
lift us to the Joy Divine.
Mortals join the mighty chorus,
which the morning stars began;
Father-love is reigning o’er us,
brother-love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music lifts us sunward
in the triumph song of life.

Header image (cropped): a creative commons. Attribution.