The final symphony composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. To quote Jethro Tull: "The deaf composer writes his final score / He'll never hear the sweet encore." This outstanding work of music culminates in the Ode to Joy ("An die Freude") with lyrics by the German poet Friedrich Schiller.

Listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is pure and absolute bliss. Only after beginning to thoroughly appreciate the Ninth could I understand the real extent of the torture that Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange was subjected to by being brainwashed into nausea whenever he listened to Beethoven.

Friedrich Schiller's words, in German and English:

Baritone Recitative

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere
anstimmen, und freudenvollere!

Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
pleasing and more joyful sounds!

An die Freude (Ode to Joy)

Baritone, Solo Quartet and Choir

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuer-trunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Joy, fair spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,
We approach thy shrine!

Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein,
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!

May he who has had the fortune
To gain a true friend
And he who has won a noble wife
Join in our jubilation!

Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Yes, even if he calls but one soul
His own in all the world.
But he who has failed in this
Must steal away alone and in tears.

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.

All the world's creatures
Draw joy from nature's breast;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her rose-strewn path.

Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend loyal unto death;
She gave lust for life to the lowliest,
And the Cherub stands before God.

Tenor and Choir

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Joyously, as his suns speed
Through Heaven's glorious order,
Hasten, Brothers, on your way,
Exulting as a knight in victory.

Choir

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuer-trunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

Joy, fair spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,
We approach thy shrine!

Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder! über'm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Be embraced, Millions!
Take this kiss for all the world!
Brothers, surely a loving Father
Dwells above the canopy of stars.

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.

Do you sink before him, Millions?
World, do you sense your Creator?
Seek him then beyond the stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.

The final symphony of Ludwig Van Beethoven.

The story behind the symphony is that Beethoven composed it while he was deaf. While writing it he would often be found banging on his piano as loud as he could in order to hear a note. At its premier Beethoven was unable to hear the grand applause that he got. He had created a true masterpiece. The symphony was played at the tearing down of the Berlin Wall as well as many other momentous occasions throughout history. It is considered one greatest music pieces ever. It is best known for its part IV, "Ode to Joy". Another note is that the length of the CD was based on the length of the song, 72 minutes.

See also: Ninth Symphony

Quite a number of years ago, the Seattle Symphony was doing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony under the baton of Milton Katims. Now at this point, you must understand two things:

  1. There's a quite long segment in this symphony where the basses don't have a thing to do. Not a single note for page after page.
  2. There used to be a tavern called Dez's 400, right across the street from the Seattle Opera House, rather favored by local musicians.

It had been decided that during this performance, once the bass players had played their parts in the opening of the symphony, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage, rather than sit on their stools looking and feeling dumb for twenty minutes. Well, once they got backstage, someone suggested that they trot across the street and quaff a few brews.

After they had downed the first couple rounds, one said, "Shouldn't we be getting back? It'd be awfully embarrassing if we were late."

Another, presumably the one who suggested this excursion in the first place, replied, "Oh, I anticipated we could use a little more time, so I tied a string around the last pages of the conductor's score. When he gets down to there, Milton's going to have to slow the tempo way down while he waves the baton with one hand and fumbles with the string with the other."

So they had another round, and finally returned to the Opera house, a little tipsy by now. However, as they came back on stage, one look at their conductor's face told them they were in serious trouble. Katims was furious! After all...

It was the bottom of the Ninth, the basses were loaded, and the score was tied.

-- Author unknown

In 1972, the Council of Europe chose The Ode to Joy for its own anthem and since 1985, it is the official anthem of the European Union (not intended to replace the national anthems of the Member States but rather to celebrate the values they all share).

Herbert von Karajan was asked to write three instrumental arrangements of the anthem, one for piano, one for wind instruments and one for symphony orchestra.

Schiller's lyrics are not part of the anthem, just the music. The reason is: "Without words, in the universal language of music, this anthem expresses the ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity for which Europe stands." (www.europa.eu.int)

Several years ago, I bought my first classical CD, a recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I'd seen "$9.98" on the label with "Wiener Philharmoniker" and pounced.

I'd expected a repeat of my overwhelming first experience with the symphony (on LP, also recorded by the Wiener Philharmoniker), only with the added clarity of digital recording. But when I got home, I was in for a disappointment. Even a novice such as myself could tell that the recording wasn't the greatest: poor microphone placement made the instruments poorly balanced. The effect ruined some of my favorite parts. My brother said, "What do you expect for $9.98?"

Maybe I know better now. But that recording of the symphony surprised me in more ways than one. I endured through to the fourth movement, to hear the Ode to Joy:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
was die Mode frech geteilt...

In my mind, there was a sudden skreeeeek!

What's this? "Thy magic reunites those that impudent custom has sundered"? Wasn't that supposed to be streng (stern)?

It turns out that Beethoven wrote frech in his original manuscript of the Symphony. Some have called it an "error", but I can't be sure that Beethoven didn't mean to put it there. Did he mis-remember Friedrich Schiller's poem, or was he arrogantly interpreting Schiller (Beethoven's arrogance can be confidently assumed)? Probably as imponderable as the identity of his "Immortal Beloved".

So anyway, you will hear both streng and frech in performances and recordings of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. As you can probably guess from my experiences, I prefer "streng". But perhaps an especially good recording could make me change my mind.

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