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,

und freudenvollere.


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.

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Comment by Lisa Davidson on January 31, 2016 at 5:02pm

I read somewhere that the original word was Freiheit (Freedom), and that Beethoven had to change it to Freude (Joy) to keep the masters happy.  I hope this is true!

Comment by K.Keller on November 19, 2013 at 9:46am


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