Do you ever sing for joy

Ode to Joy How a drinking song became a European anthem

By Tobias Barth and Lorenz Hoffmann

The commission came from England, of all places, which prompted Ludwig van Beethoven to compose the Ninth Symphony. (imago / A. Temple)

"Brothers flies from your seats when the full Roman squeezes": Originally, Schiller's ode to joy was just a drinking song. With Beethoven's music, it became a hymn over which a political battle broke out.

February 2017 in the House of Commons. During the Brexit vote count, two dozen MEPs from Scotland sing a song.

The Scottish MPs sing the "Ode to Joy" until the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons calls them to order:

"Cut, cut, order, order! Order !!!"

"Personally, I have nothing against singing, but I cannot allow that here in Parliament," said the Speaker of the House of Commons. "Before we know it, we're hearing completely different chants here, and we don't even want to start with that. I don't want a singing contest here. Well, if you would please leave that - the week was exhausting enough."

The beginnings of this song, which has become a powerful symbol for Europe, go back to the 18th century.

Leipzig-Gohlis, April 1785

"Here you feel like you're on a ship, because the ground is so uneven, and everything fluctuates a little - yes, and now we're actually in the sanctuary of the Schillerhaus, which is the so-called Schillerstube," says Franziska Jenrich-Tran, museum educator at the Leipzig City History Museum. The museum also includes a former farmhouse in the Gohlis district, once located at the gates of the city.

"And in this area of ​​the house, the farming family separated it in the middle of the 18th century and rented it out as summer quarters. In the 18th century, Gohlis was a place where the wealthy Leipzig residents of the city, the stuffy Escape from the city in summer and where they spent their summers here in good air. "

The poem "Ode to Joy" was written here in 1785: Schillerhaus in Leipzig. (picture alliance / dpa-Zentralbild / Jan Woitas)

The then 25-year-old Friedrich Schiller is in the middle of a "quarter-life-crisis". He has fled his job as regimental doctor with the Duke of Württemberg, but with the wish to exist as a freelance writer it does not really work out. He had achieved a sensational success with his first stage play "Die Räuber" in 1782 and promptly got a job as a theater poet in Mannheim. But now, two years later, he has fallen out with the directorship and actors. His contract is running out, he's deep in debt, and he's ailing. In addition, a relationship with an officer's wife that has become closer than proper brings him into distress.

"And in this very dark time for Schiller, he then received letters from a Leipzig group of young people who simply expressed their admiration for him in these letters," says Jenrich-Tran.

The poet in the intoxication of bliss

This circle of friends was formed around the Leipzig senior consistorial councilor Christian Gottfried Körner and his fiancée Minna Stock, who later became parents of the anti-Napoleonic poet Theodor Körner.

"Minna Stock then added a wallet that she embroidered herself and embroidered with Schiller's initials. Dora Stock, a very talented painter, made four portraits of her friends, which can be seen downstairs in the parlor, and von Körner then added a personal composition Schiller's song of Amalia. "

The admirers invite their idol to Leipzig - Schiller arrives in April 1785.

"From the statements you know that they were almost a bit disappointed, the friends, because Schiller was such a shy young man," says Franziska Jenrich-Tran. "It was more like imagining someone who might be a bit more daring, more like imagining someone who has just written the robbers.

So, in principle he felt very comfortable here, for example he also wrote to Körner that his friendship and kindness had prepared him an Elysium. "

Friedrich Schiller spends the weeks in the Gohlis idyll in a state of bliss. Get up at three in the morning and stroll across the fields in a thin housecoat. The twelve-year-old son of the Gohlis farmer is allowed to carry the water bottle after him. Afterwards Schiller sits down to write. Meals and evenings are reserved for social gatherings with new Leipzig friends.

He writes: "Heaven has led us strangely towards one another, but in our friendship it is said to have performed a miracle. A dark premonition made me expect so much, so much from you, when I decided to go to Leipzig, but Providence has me more fulfilled than she promised me, gave me a bliss in your arms that I couldn't even imagine at the time. "

"No separation! Nobody should be alone!"

"In the 18th century the concept of friendship was also a very central theme. And it was accepted here unconditionally," emphasizes Franziska Jenrich-Tran. "Körner also solved all his financial problems in a very, very discreet way, which contributed to Schiller suddenly being able to live carefree again."

Friedrich Schiller moves to Loschwitz near Dresden in September 1785, where Freund Körner owns a vineyard on the banks of the Elbe. The poet has the first stanzas of the ode "To Joy" in his luggage. Minna Körner reports to posterity:

"When Schiller was sitting with us under the walnut tree at our breakfast table on the first morning, he brought health to a happy coexistence. The glasses sounded bright, but Schiller toasted me so violently in his enthusiastic mood that my glass was shattered jumped. The red wine flowed over the damask cloth, which was revealed for the first time, to my shock. Schiller cried: A libation for the gods! Let's pour out our glasses!

Körner and Doris followed Schiller's example; The latter then took the empty glasses and threw them, so that they all burst into pieces, on the stone pavement with the passionate exclamation: No separation! Nobody should be alone! May a common downfall be destined for us! "

"This glass to the good spirit"

Joy gushes in goblets, in the grape golden blood drink Meekness cannibals, Despair heroism - - Brothers flies from your seats when the full Roman squeezes, Let the foam spurt to the sky: This glass for the good spirit.

"This poem was originally a drinking song, only with Schiller, of course, in this drinking song the whole world sits with everyone and the hope for great brotherhood is not just between two wine drinkers, but the whole of humanity, so that's actually the core" , explains the literary scholar and music journalist Dieter Hildebrandt, author of the book "The Ninth - Schiller, Beethoven and the story of a musical world success".

"Sometimes in the first reviews it also happens that the symphony itself or the final movement sounds like a bacchanale and that's exactly what it is. A wine-drinking song".

Whose stanzas Schiller's patron and friend Körner is the first to put into notes. He was followed by composers such as the Prussian court composer Reichardt or Goethe's favorite composer Zelter. A first collection of settings was published as early as 1800.

"Schiller's poem hit like a bomb, so that was like, one would say, like a great rap of the time. Schiller had a tremendously rousing force in his words and I mean, you can say: Wherever he put it, grass no longer grew. And Beethoven was actually one of the very last, or even the last, to say, there's still that old Schiller song that I've had in mind since my youth. "

In 1812 - by then Friedrich Schiller had been dead for seven years - Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a few lines of music and these scraps of sentences in his sketchbook:

"Joy of beautiful sparkles of the gods - working out the overture [...] broken sentences like princes are beggars etc. - not the whole"

"Actually a European Masonic hymn"

For decades, Beethoven was preoccupied with the idea of ​​pouring Schiller's thoughts into a musical work. One day the Royal Symphonic Society gave him a commission to compose.

"That is of course the special point in this historical situation today, where England wants to run away", explains Dieter Hildebrandt. "The London Philharmonic Society approached Beethoven, for example in 1816, asking if he could compose one or even two symphonies for the orchestra. That dragged on and Beethoven finally gave the ninth to the Londoners and sold it.

It then took a while before the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed it, I believe in 1824. With a non-German text, non-English text, with an Italian text that was already available. But the interesting thing when we are talking about England: in 1837 an English critic wrote that this hymn is actually - and I would have to quote it almost literally, but I'm trying to improvise now - that is actually a European Masonic hymn. So a European hymn as early as 1837, writes an English critic, so he had actually recognized the non-political, but European civilizing power of this music and this text. "

One generation after the premiere, Beethoven's Ninth is discovered in the political sense by the bourgeoisie who want to emancipate themselves from the restored nobility. Richard Wagner, at that time court conductor in Dresden, campaigned for the symphony with verve and verve in the context of the 1848 revolution.

On Palm Sunday 1849, the choir belts out "your magic binds again what fashion strictly divides" and "all people become brothers" - a political issue on the eve of the Dresden May uprising. Wagner then stands on the barricades, the construction of which his friend, the opera architect Gottfried Semper, supervised. Arrest warrants are issued against both of them: As "first class democrats" - as it says in Semper's profile - they have to flee Saxony.

After 1870/71 it says: "A German hymn"

And again a generation later: The Beethoven admirer Richard Wagner has meanwhile become a first-class nationalist.

"At the end of the 19th century, after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, Wagner had said that the hymn is a German hymn. It does not belong to France and it should remain with the Germans and only with the Germans", explains Hildebrandt. "Well, Wagner was a first-rate chauvinist and a counter-position came from France, because the hymn had been discovered early in France and played with enthusiasm, because the hymn naturally followed on from the revolutionary hymns of the composer Gossec and the hymn The French were much closer to the national anthem than to the Germans, who had still been fragmented. And then there was an opposing position from France to Wagner and they said, then, then, these Germans, who are now nationalizing it and subordinating it to patriotism , the work does not belong, but should be taken away from the Germans. "

"Heil Dir im Siegerkranz" is the hymn in the German Empire. Beethoven's Ninth has now established itself as a symphonic work and is often played. The "Ode to Joy" is part of the standard repertoire of male choirs and choral societies. In 1916, however, when the German Empire wages war against half of Europe, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir goes on a remarkable strike. For some patriotically minded musicians, the text of the finale, which unites people, is angry.

The singers refuse to perform the work. That goes too far even for the patriotic magazine "Merker":

"There is a Schiller-Beethoven corner in every German that even this destructive war must not destroy us! The striking gentlemen from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir are wrong. We would be internally impoverished if we were to oppose Beethoven. That is German power: the saber in his right hand, Beethoven in his heart! "

The "Ode to Joy" as a New Year's Eve concert

Two years later, of all places, it is the Gewandhaus in Leipzig that establishes a new tradition: the "Ode to Joy" as a New Year's Eve concert.

"At the end of the First World War, in November 1918, there were various freedom and peace celebrations, including in Leipzig," explains Andreas Schulz, Gewandhaus director since 1998.

"At that time there were actually two initiators, Mr. Licht from the Arbeiterbildungsinstitut ABI, who said we had to somehow have a special event on New Year's Eve. And then he teamed up with the then features editor Dr. Franz from the LVZ newspaper, and the two are the initiators of the first Beethoven Nine New Year's Eve performance here in Leipzig. "

Venue of numerous New Year's Eve concerts with Beethoven's ninth: the Gewandhaus Leipzig (picture-alliance / dpa / Jens Kalaene)

The Leipziger Volkszeitung LVZ was at that time one of the leading papers of the social democracy. As early as 1905, the socialist Kurt Eisner, who later became Prime Minister of the Free State of Bavaria, organized a performance of the Beethoven work in front of 3,000 Berlin workers. And Arthur Nikisch, the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, had opened his concert hall to the lower classes from 1915 with very inexpensive tickets. With the New Year's Eve concert, Leipzig is building on a left-wing tradition:

"It was not an event from the Gewandhaus or the Gewandhaus directorate, but from these initiators, especially from this ABI. And that was a huge success," emphasizes today's Gewandhaus director. "The ABI then organized such New Year's Eve concerts until 1933, not only with Beethoven's Ninth, but also with many other works. Only after the end of the Second World War did the Gewandhaus come back to reviving Beethoven Nine there was no question that an important impulse came from Leipzig, but not an uninterrupted tradition. "

The National Socialists turn the ode into "Titan music"

What Friedrich Schiller wrote with ecstatic joy and transformed Beethoven into a symphony becomes titan music in the nationalistic hubris after 1933, announced by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1942 at a celebration of the NSDAP on the 53rd birthday of Adolf Hitler: "This time the sounds of the the most heroic titan music that ever streamed out of a Faustian German heart, elevate this confession to a serious and solemn height. "

The Ninth Symphony will also be performed under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler. Almost all the greats of the Nazi party are gathered in uniform in the hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. Only the one to be honored is missing.

Goebbels in his speech: "When at the end of our ceremony the voices of the people and instruments begin the grand final chord of the ninth symphony, when the roaring chorale of joy sounds and a feeling for the size and breadth of this time carries into the last German hut, when his hymns resound over all the expanses and countries on which German regiments are on guard, then we all, whether man, woman, child, soldier, farmer, worker or civil servant, want to be aware of the seriousness of the hour at the same time and feel lucky to be able to witness and co-shape this greatest historical epoch. "

A chorale in a nationalistic bloodlust

In April 1942, the Wehrmacht, still confident of victory, penetrated the vast expanses of the Soviet Union. Auschwitz, the so-called "final solution" to the Jewish question, has been decided. The "Ode to Joy" as a chorale in a nationalistic bloodlust. In exile in America, Thomas Mann wrote his "Dr. Faustus". The main character of the novel is the composer Adrian Leverkühn.

"I found it shouldn't be."
"What, Adrian, shouldn't be?"
"The good and the noble," he answered me, "what is called the human. What people fought for, what they stormed forts, and what those who were fulfilled cheerfully proclaimed, that should not be. It will be taken back. I want to take it back . "
"I understand you, dear, not entirely. What do you want to take back?"
"The Ninth Symphony," he replied. And then nothing more came, just as I waited. "

"It was the case that in order to avoid a total failure during the Second World War, the score of the Ninth was taken apart and safely stowed in various places in Germany, that is, deposited," says musicologist Christine Stahl. "Then after the Second World War it was the case that the manuscript parts were supposed to be merged, but exactly two parts could not be merged in the fourth movement."

Since 2003, Beethoven's ninth has been part of the Unesco heritage "World Memory". (dpa)

Christine Stahl wrote a doctoral thesis on the history of the reception of Beethoven's Ninth after 1945, when Nazi Germany was conquered and Beethoven's Ninth could be heard again - but the original score shared the fate of post-war Germany:

"That means there was a crack through the ninth, a crack that was manifested by the wall, because part of the last sentence was in East Berlin and the other part was in West Berlin."

Split score: one half was in the GDR

After the war, Schiller's line "Was die fashion strictly divided" literally applied to Beethoven's original score. The manuscript was in the Unter den Linden State Library until measure 699, the rest of the time in the State Library in West Berlin. It makes sense that the score was divided exactly at the point where it says: "Be embraced millions, we will enter your sanctuary, drunk with fire!"

And yet, because the division was not that far advanced, Beethoven's Ninth linked the two German states symbolically - if only out of embarrassment. At the Olympic Winter Games in Oslo in 1952 it was used as the national anthem:

"At the time, it was about the fact that, due to the French alphabet, the German team entered the stadium first and the Winter Olympics would have opened with the sound of 'Germany, Germany above everything', and that went far too far for the organizers, a few years later End of the Second World War and the German occupation, "explains Christine Stahl. "And for this reason, it was argued at the time that instead of 'Germany, Germany above everything', the famous 16 bars from the Ninth Symphony should be played."

Apple of contention between East and West

At the first post-war Olympics with German participation, the Ode to Joy was something like the lowest common denominator between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

"You have mutually denied your right to Beethoven," said Stahl. "In the GDR it was said that the imperialist Bonn state, with its striving for nuclear weapons, has no right to commemorate Beethoven."

The Presidium of the National Council of the GDR wrote for the Beethoven year 1952:

"Adenauer, a shameful separatist and traitor, made Bonn the seat of his government. Bonn, today's warmonger headquarters, doesn't need a Beethoven hall. It doesn't need classical music, it doesn't need Beethoven. And when they perform Beethoven, they just do it, to hide their true thoughts. [...] The American cultural barbarians and their lackeys desecrate Beethoven's reputation by using Bonn, his native city, for the most pernicious national degradation. to destroy the national consciousness of the German people. "

"And in the Federal Republic of Germany it was said that a dear father has to live above the stars, not under the stars, especially not under the red star!", Says Christine Stahl.

Who does Beethoven belong to? From the GDR there was repeated harassment against the "Warmongers Center Bonn", the birthplace of Beethoven. (imago / point of view)

In 1970 one read in an article by Willy Hess in the German magazine "Der Republikaner":

"A form of government that tramples on freedom and human dignity, persecutes and even shoots those who think differently and religiously, if they try to escape the spiritual tyranny of the totalitarian state, such a form of government truly has no right to celebrate Beethoven as one of their own."

Lots of reinterpretations - what would Beethoven have said about that?

Musicologist Christine Stahl finds it "absurd" for which ideologies and thoughts Beethoven had to stand up for everything. "Even when Bernstein had 'Freedom, beautiful spark of gods' sung in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he said in an interview: I am sure that Beethoven would have agreed with this reinterpretation of the text," she says and asks: "Why should Beethoven have agreed to everything we ascribe to him? !! Can't be, right? "

In December 1989 the star conductor Leonard Bernstein conducted the Ninth in East Berlin's Schauspielhaus on Gendarmenmarkt. The performance will be broadcast in 20 countries, the orchestra has international and symbolic cast Bernstein: In addition to the choir and orchestra of the Bavarian Radio, musicians from East Berlin, Dresden, Leningrad, New York, Paris and London play. And whenever the original speaks of "joy", Bernstein lets "freedom" sing and thus creates a kind of memorial for the historical moment.

Freedom, beautiful spark of gods - what Beethoven would have said about the textual changes made by Leonard Bernstein in 1989? (picture-alliance / dpa)

The manuscript of the original score is still in two places at this time. It was only reunited in 1997. It is now back in the Berlin State Library and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"When we talk about the ninth today, we have 16 bars in mind. Some people don't even know that there were 45 minutes before that, and this thought, especially after the beginning of the fourth movement, as it were more or less musically goes haywire, which is then a relief when the whole orchestra is finally broken down to this deep string motif, so when that comes for the first time, we don't even find out ", regrets the musicologist Christine Stahl.

"Because we hear the ninth in all possible contexts, whether this is the advertising on the radio, whether this is the European anthem that we hear, whether these are excerpts that we hear, whether there are any, any quotes in other songs we hear. We have listened through these 16 bars so much that, in my opinion, we can no longer properly relate to the awareness of the salvation that these bars are supposed to represent. "

Last act: The Ode to Joy becomes the European anthem

"Following the view that it is appropriate to select a work which is representative of European genius and whose use on European occasions has already become a tradition, we propose to the members of the Council of Europe that the prelude to the" Ode to Joy " to be accepted as the European anthem in the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. "

In 1972 the Council of Europe accepted the proposal to make the "Song of Joy" the official symbol of Europe as an anthem. Herbert von Karajan is commissioned with the recording for the version without text. In order to promote the European idea among young people, the Council of Europe has had versions made in various popular musical styles since the 1990s - nothing is known about its success.

The most successful version of the "Ode to Joy" in terms of the number of clicks is a YouTube video from Nuremberg, a staged flash mob from 2014, with almost 18 million views. In 2016, it was Emanuel Macron who did the Beethoven manner for himself and himself Europe statement used. After the electoral victory of his movement La République en Marche, he showed himself to the electorate to the sound of not the Marseillaise, but the European anthem. And at the demonstrations of the "Pulse of Europe" movement you can always hear variants of the anthem in stadium quality, as well as at the demonstrations of the "Remainers" in Great Britain.

The Russian-German piano virtuoso Igor Levit proved that Beethoven's music - without words - can be a very moving commentary on the situation, even an appeal. At the popular "Nights of the Proms" in London in the year of the Brexit referendum, he played his version of the "Ode to Joy", the European anthem:

Ode to Joy - How a drinking song became a European anthem
A feature by Tobias Barth and Lorenz Hoffmann
Editor: Winfried Sträter
Speakers: Hans Henrik Wöhler, Christian Gutowski, Corinna Waldbauer and, as narrator, Tobias Barth.
Production: the authors.