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Friday Arts Feature - The Ode To Joy

by British Awakening – 31 Jan 2020

Portrait of Friedrich Schiller by Gerhard von Kügelgen

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in Germany in 1770 and died in Vienna in 1827 – fittingly during a thunderstorm. A composer and pianist, Beethoven is considered one of the giants of classical music alongside Mozart and Bach. In 1798 he was dealt a cruel blow when following a fit he fell over and as he got up he noticed his hearing had deteriorated. Over the next few years he became progressively deaf, the cause of which remains unknown, theories ranging from the cause being typhus to an auto immune disorder.

Beethoven produced a body of remarkable works but perhaps his most loved is his 9th Symphony – strictly speaking the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. It took Beethoven two years to compose the piece and it was first performed in Vienna in 1824 and became an instant hit, the Ninth is considered by critics to be one of the greatest achievements of western music and to this day is one of the most played symphonies in the world.

Now a small confession to make – my personal favourite by Beethoven is Symphony No.7 in A major op.92 – II, Allegretto, an accomplished piece but I guess I would be doomed to failure if I tried to make the argument that this was his finest work (even though it is):

As a piece of music the Ninth was the first time a leading composer had used voices in a symphony – which is why it is sometimes referred to as the Choral Symphony, the words taken from An die Freude (Ode to Joy) a poem by Friedrich Schiller.

“An die Freude”

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.


“Ode to Joy”

Joy, beautiful spark of Divinity [or: of gods],
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly One, thy sanctuary!
Thy magic binds again
What custom strictly divided;*
All people become brothers,*
Where thy gentle wing abides.

Due to its popularity the Ninth features in many films and artworks, it was an obvious feature of the biopic Immortal Beloved, a masterful portrayal of the life of Beethoven by the actor Gary Oldman that conveys the tragedy of his struggle with hearing loss. The Ninth also features in popular movies such as Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Dead Poets Society, but perhaps most famously in Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange where one of the characters (Alex) is conditioned against classical music where the Ninth is played as the soundtrack to violent films he is forced to watch as a form of aversion therapy. Interestingly the ‘March from a Clockwork Orange’ which used the choral movement was one of the first recorded tunes using a vocoder – a forerunner of the synthesiser.

So without further ado Ladies and Gentlemen I bring you the Choral Movement of the Ninth, enjoy your weekend!

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