At the Cape Symphony, our mission is to inspire joy. Performing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is the ultimate for us! Join us for Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Joy on May 14 & 15.
The words to “Ode to Joy” were written in 1785 by the German poet Friedrich Schiller, and were used, with some revision, by Beethoven for the final movement of his final and most incredible Ninth Symphony, which the Cape Symphony musicians will perform along with four soloists and Boston-based Chorus pro Musica.
In a CBS Sunday Morning story from December 2021, Beethoven biographer Jan Swafford told Mo Rocca that it's no coincidence that the symphony's final movement, the triumphal "Ode to Joy," has long been a worldwide anthem of freedom and peace.
"Beethoven wanted to write an anthem for humanity with this little tune that anybody can sing," said Swafford. He certainly succeeded! Just about everyone knows the “Ode to Joy” tune, and Western popular culture is steeped in it. If you were raised in a Christian church, you may have heard it first in the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (aka "The Hymn of Joy"), adapted from “Ode to Joy” by Henry van Dyke.
“Ode to Joy” pops up in The Beatles’ second film, HELP!, and in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Composer Michael Kamen featuring the symphony’s ‘Ode to Joy’ theme in variations throughout his score to the 1988 film Die Hard. Watch this compilation video of "Ode to Joy" moments in the Bruce Willis movie.
In Sister Act 2, Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill perform a souped-up version of "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” And GRAMMY-Award winning singer Lizzo recently played a bit of “Ode to Joy” on Saturday Night Live, appearing in a sketch as a flutist looking to fill in with an orchestra that’s rehearsing to perform the Ninth Symphony. The always recognizable tune remains as relevant today as ever! (And Lizzo really does play the flute!).
The most important use of “Ode to Joy,” however, is as a protest anthem and a celebration of peace. Leonard Bernstein famously conducted it in East Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, replacing “Joy” with “Freedom.” Chinese students played it in Tiananmen Square. The BBC Proms Youth Choir performed the piece alongside Georg Solti's UNESCO World Orchestra for Peace at the Royal Albert Hall during the 2018 Proms, commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War One. Beethoven’s original intent in adapting the Schiller poem, a well-known call for freedom, for his Ninth Symphony was in itself a radical act, and the passionately political composer would no doubt have loved the association of his work with the cause of revolution against tyranny and, ultimately, peace.
According to CBS Sunday Morning, “A determined, defiant Beethoven gave the world a reminder that, even in the darkest of times, there's potential for joy.” As the world again struggles with dark times – war, pandemic, poverty – the joy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the “Ode to Joy” brings us all respite and inspiration.