Thoughts on Lent 3 : Beautiful God-spark Joy

Ludwig van Beethoven

A note to readers: This is an usual post but one for which I hope readers will stop their day.

The video below is the final portion of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s 9th symphony, his last. It is the portion commonly referred to as the “Ode to Joy,” words Beethoven appropriated from the poem of the same name,  “An die Freude,” by Friedrich Schiller.

I invite readers to take time to read the English translation of the lyrics posted under the video itself (they are not the same words of the well-known hymn). More, I encourage readers to choose a time in your day or evening — or at any point this Lenten season — to listen to this movement in its entirely (this portion of the symphony is approximately 23 minutes). As you listen, consider the movements of the heart which the music reflects, the pacing and pauses, its surges and retreats. Also consider the fact that Beethoven, in his genius, did not use the spoken word to express his longings and divine raptures. He used notes, rests, drums, a piano and piccolos. When the 9th premiered on May 7, 1824 in the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna, it received five standing ovations, though the composer had to be turned around to the crowd to see it, since he could not hear it. At the time when he wrote the symphony and finally performed it, he was completely deaf.

Thus, consider: when he pondered how to conclude what was destined to be the last full symphony he would compose this is what he heard inside his head:

(The video below shows a graphic indicating the words being sung, both as they are sung in the German and as they would be translated in English.)

YouTube Preview Image

 English translation of the lyrics:

O friends, no more these sounds! Let us sing more cheerful songs, more full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity, Daughter of Elysium, fire-inspired
we tread 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 nature’s 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 star 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.

About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.