I have always wanted to sing in the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (The Choral Symphony) because it has never failed to leave me uplifted and thrilled about life. I have sung works by Mozart, Handel, Haydn and many others but never the beloved “Ode to Joy” from the 9th. I now can no longer sing but I can still dream. The music and Beethoven’s lyrics (differing slightly from Schiller’s original poem) as they do, is one of the most powerful, inspiring pieces of music ever produced and allows me to dream of a better world.
As a very young student setting out to study politics and philosophy (1973) I was conscious of the overthrow of Allende, President of Chile by the now infamous Fascist General Pinochet, but what I didn’t know, at that time, was that the Chilean students would sing the “Ode to Joy” as a protest song in the capital, Santiago. It would seem the students in Tiananmen Sq, who faced up to the Chinese Authorities in 1989 played “Ode to Joy” as their rallying music. Do you recall it being played at the Last Night of the Proms in 2001 just after the destruction of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan? It would appear the piece has been used by different groups but always to inspire people to hold their heads up high and proclaim joy and goodness. At one point the chorus sings, “World, do you sense your Creator?” and that says it all. The piece points to the beauty and the nobility of all that is good and so it is an anthem of praise (I believe to God our Creator).
I am moved every time I hear it, and I have heard it live on more than a few times. On each, and every occasion, I have wondered at the beauty, the power, the sheer exuberance, the joy of that final Movement and come away thinking God must have put that music into Beethoven’s head for nothing else could have inspired such a dazzling piece. I believe its message of seeing beauty in life and friendship is something we all should seek. The world would be a better place if we sought to find more friends rather than creating barriers to separate people.
I am conscious “Ode to Joy” was adopted as the anthem of what we call the European Union. I am so sorry that there may be fewer opportunities for me to feel the thrill and excitement of this quite brilliant masterpiece.