Joy in Beethoven's 9th Symphony

Beethoven's 9th Symphony

“The joy of living is the theme of A.A.’s Twelfth Step, and action is its key word. Here we turn outward toward our fellow alcoholics who are still in distress. Here we experience the kind of giving that asks no rewards. Here we begin to practice the Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety. When the Twelfth Step is seen in its full implication, it is really talking about the kind of love that has no price tag on it.” 

Joy, suggests the 12&12 above (p. 106), follows naturally from a life of love and service. It is the most convincing proof that we have experienced a spiritual awakening and are well along the road to emotional sobriety. The Big Book places the emotion in the context of God’s will for us. “We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free. We cannot subscribe to the belief that this life is a vale of tears, though it was just that for many of us. But it is clear that we made our own misery.”

The theme of the Twelfth Step is also the theme of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the final movement of his 9th Symphony, a work that stands as a moving and lasting testament to the victory of joy over misery. 

Misery was Beethoven’s constant companion, some self-inflicted, some not. His father, himself a musician, was an abusive alcoholic. Wanting to turn him into a Mozart-like prodigy, he would lock the child in his room for hours on end so he would practice the harpsichord. While still a teenager, Beethoven was left to care for his two younger brothers following his mother’s death, his father being rendered useless by alcohol. Later on as an adult, Beethoven was plagued by a variety of health problems, including a chronic intestinal condition, swollen pancreas, and, in a sign that his own drinking had grown out of control, cirrhosis of the liver. 

Worst of all for a composer, Beethoven began to go deaf when he was only 28, the result according to him of hearing damage he incurred after a fall brought about by a fit of (probably alcoholic) rage. His love for music would nevertheless help him to persevere. “What is in my heart must come out,” he wrote in a letter. 

And so it did. His 9th Symphony was written when he was completely deaf. Transcending all misfortune, it climaxes in one of the greatest finales of all time, a veritable hymn to life, an exultant song of joy.  

The text of the Ode to Joy was adapted from a poem of the same title by Friedrich Schiller. Beethoven’s musical prelude was adopted as its anthem by the European Union in 1972. 

The present performance is by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Riccardo Muti, musical director. The video features an English translation of the German lyrics of the Ode, which begins with the Fourth Movement at 52:13 (IV. Finale. Ode to Joy).

Its sponsors carry the following message: “Charlie would have turned 19 on September 18, 2014, the date of this performance. He was always sharing joy. He lived and gave with courage. And he was always bringing people together. Funding for seats at the four performances of this program, for people who otherwise might have been unable to attend, for filing this concert, and for distributing it so it can be freely shared around the world, is provided by Charlie’s family. 

It is dedicated  . . . .              .

. . . . to everyone who shares joy

. . . .to everyone who lives and gives with courage

. . . .to everyone who brings people together. 

Thanks for you! Charlie.

”Beethoven shared this with the world even though he could not hear it.. . . consider sharing this joy with someone who might not otherwise hear it."

Beethoven's 9th Symphony: Ode to Joy, Lyrics

Please note that the English translation below does not match word for word the translation used in the video. Also, the English lines are not always accurately aligned with the German. 

[Image: "Beethoven's Walk in Nature," by Julius Schmid.

Ode to Joy - German Lyrics

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.
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.
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 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.
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
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.

Ode to Joy - English Translation

O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More songs full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Within thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers,
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join our song of praise;
But those who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At natures breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He sent on their courses
Through the splendor of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
Like a hero going to victory!
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must he dwell.

To listen to  Beethoven's 9th Symphony or return to The Language of the Heart, please click on link.