Ode to Joy

I try to hide my super geeky side from most people but I’ve always loved symphonies, opera, and musicals. There is something so amazing about our ability to compose and play music in a way that seems to bring out the best of us. It’s not that this sort of sublime experience is not possible with more popular music – it is – it’s just that classical music seems to hit all the senses in a way that stimulates the mind, body, and spirit. I can’t say that there is much on the radio that does much for the spirit.

Everyone knows who Beethoven is, but it amazes me how many people have not heard his music (or at least know they’ve heard it). If you’re not from the western hemisphere, I’ll forgive you, but you should listen when you have a chance. I will post the full symphony (it’s available in the public domain) for you to listen to. The end of the symphony ends in a chorus that Beethoven put to the words of the German poet, Frederich Schiller. It’s a beautiful poem, if you’ve never read it.

O friends! Not these sounds! But let us strike up more pleasant sounds and more joyful! Joy, o wondrous spark divine, Daughter of Elysium, Drunk with fire now we enter, Heavenly one, your holy shrine.

Your magic powers join again What fashion strictly did divide; Brotherhood unites all men Where your gentle wing’s spread wide. The man who’s been so fortunate To become the friend of a friend, The man who has won a fair woman – To the rejoicing let him add his voice.

The man who calls but a single soul Somewhere in the world his own! And he who never managed this – Let him steal forth from our throng! Joy is drunk by every creature From Nature’s fair and charming breast; Every being, good or evil, Follows in her rosy steps.

Kisses she gave to us, and vines, And one good friend, tried in death; The serpent she endowed with base desire And the cherub stands before God. Gladly as His suns do fly Through the heavens’ splendid plan, Run now, brothers, your own course, Joyful like a conquering hero

Embrace each other now, you millions! The kiss is for the whole wide world! Brothers – over the starry firmament A beloved Father must surely dwell. Do you come crashing down, you millions? Do you sense the Creators presence, world? Seek Him above the starry firmament, For above the stars he surely dwells.

Update 10-09-2007: Here is the full “Finale – Presto”


2 comments On Ode to Joy

  • wish there was a radio station that would play his music and Rachmaninoff, they lived in a time that had gentle people in it, people need that kind of music everyday. Thanks for you article.

  • Matt,

    While I share your passion for Beethoven, I have to take some exception to your characterization of the divide between current or popular music and “classical” music. For, after all, every piece of music was once ‘popular’ and part of the mainstream. Beethoven was no more immune to the vagaries of current culture than InSync or Nirvana. That’s why his Symphony No. 5 has the recurring “deet-deet-deet-dah” theme – that was LVB sticking it to his critics who said that his melodies were brilliant but far too complex and boring for the “average” person. It’s a historical accident that people came to classify this sort of symphonic music as classical and somehow separate it from other music.

    The separation is, IMHO, artificial at best. Our appreciation of music shares context with our times and lives. So, when Nick Drake tried to share his short-lived gift, almost nobody cared. Almost 25 years after his death, a Volkswagen commercial playing Pink Moon posthumously gave him a fame that he never enjoyed in life. One day, we may see pieces like Pink Moon classified differently from others of its time because it was somehow different. But, that doesn’t change its true place in history.

    So, yes, the subtle wonder and majesty that I feel listening to the Moonlight Sonata almost overwhelms me. But, I can feel many of the same emotions listening to Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance. My thought is not to criticize. Please keep your love for the historical symphonic and operatic music alive; just realize that if LVB were here today, he’d be composing and competing with Counting Crows and Coldplay. The true beauty and splendor of music only occurs between your ears and can only occur if we allow it to do so. Be well and keep plugging.


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