Up until now, if I was asked what my all-time favorite song was I would have said “Ode to Joy”. Now I’m not sure that’s the right answer!
This past weekend at the East TN BP Gathering the comment was made that a piece of sheet music titled “Ode to Joy” was really called "Joyful, Joyful". This raised my curiosity and I did a little research.
Beethoven wrote his 9th and final complete symphony over a 7 year period, 1818-1824. By that time he was considered totally deaf (some say he may have had the slightest bit of hearing, we will never know). This was the first major symphonic composition to include voice. Beethoven based the text of the final (4th) movement on a poem titled “Ode to Joy” that was written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785. Schiller’s poem was basically a drinking song about brotherhood. The poem was revised in 1803 and Beethoven added some additional words when he adapted it for his symphony.
Here is the original text of Beethoven's 9th Symphony in German with a literal translation to English (repeats have been left out).
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
Oh friends, not these sounds!
Let us instead strike up more pleasing
and more joyful ones!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of the divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter your sanctuary, burning with fervour,
o heavenly being!
Your magic brings together
what custom has sternly divided.
All men shall become brothers,
wherever your gentle wings hover.
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!
Whoever has been lucky enough
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found a beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Any who cannot, let them slink away
from this gathering in tears!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küße gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Every creature drinks in joy
at nature's breast;
Good and bad alike
follow her trail of roses.
She gives us kisses and wine,
a true friend, even in death;
Even the worm was given desire,
and the cherub stands before God.
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Gladly, just as His suns hurtle
through the glorious universe,
So you, brothers, should run your course,
joyfully, like a conquering hero.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.
Do you bow down before Him, you millions?
Do you sense your Creator, o world?
Seek Him above the canopy of stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.
In 1907 Henry van Dyke wrote a poem to fit the melody of the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. The poem was titled "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" and is close to the lyrics found in today's hymnals. Van Dyke's poem follows.
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, God of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Opening to 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 heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise!.:
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flowering meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain,
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living
ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our 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!
My personal passion is for the entire symphony (and pretty much all things Beethoven) though the final movement is beyond a doubt the best known part of the symphony. Lyrics to songs are often what defines them and can draw you to a song on their own merit, but for me Beethoven's 9th doesn’t need words, the melody is joy itself and my heart swells every time I hear it.
When all is said and done, I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much what we call this masterpiece or its 4th movement. Billy Shakespeare would tell us "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".
I guess a solid argument could be made that the sheet music originally in question should be titled “Final (or 4th) Movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony" but what a dry and dispassionate name for one of the most splendid musical compositions ever written.
RIP Ludwig van Beethoven, you could never have known how you would live on through your music.