Saturday, August 1, 2015

Beethoven: Ode to Joy

This August marks the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II after the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Commentators are still debating the legitimacy of the decision to drop the bombs but no one questions the horrible devastation that was visited on the population of the two cities.

Thankfully over the last seventy years , despite the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam and the apparently unending conflicts in the Middle East, the world has avoided another nuclear catastrophe. Nevertheless, despite a shrinkage of the large nuclear arsenals of the USA and Russia, other nations have joined the list of those possessing nuclear weapons.

I do not want to comment on the Hiroshima/Nagasaki decision. Others, more informed than I, have long debated the pros and cons. Nor do I want to discuss the pending deal with Iran since no one as yet has anywhere near the information that the President and his advisors have.

PBS recently ran a documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima. In the re-creation a lone B-29 bomber is seen flying over Hiroshima, and in the next minute almost 100000 people are killed, maimed, or disfigured for life. They were people like us. Oddly enough, it made me think of Beethoven’s great symphony #9 with its magnificent choral ending, the Ode to Joy, based on the poem by Schiller.

The notes on my album claimed that Beethoven had considered putting the ode to Joy and Brotherhood to music for over twenty years.
We are all familiar with the opening strains in German.
Freude, schoner Gotterfunken.Tochter aus Elysium.Wir betreten, feuertrunken,Himmlische, dein Heiligthum.

Here is a full English translation of the text from this greatest of symphonies. It culminates in an affirmation of the brotherhood of man under one Creator.

Joy, thou gleaming spark divine,
Daughter of Elysium.
Drunk with ardor, we draw near,
Goddess, to your shrine.
Thy magic unites again
What custom sternly drew apart.
All mankind become brothers
Beneath thy gentle hovering wing.

He whose happy fortune grants him
Friend to have and friend to be.
Who has won a noble woman,
Let him join in our rejoicing!
Yes—even if it were one heart only
Beating for him in the world!
But if he has never known this,
Let him weeping steal from out our ranks.

Joy is drawn by every creature
From the breast of Nature.
All men good and all men evil
Walk upon her rose strewn path.
Kisses gave she and the ripe grape,
A good friend, trusty to the last.
Even the worm can feel pleasure,
And the Seraph stands before God.

Glad as suns that He hurtles
Through the vast spaces of heaven.
Pursue your pathway, brothers.
Be joyful as a hero in victory.
Millions, be you embraced!
For the universe, this kiss!
Brothers—above the canopy of stars
A loving Father surely dwells.
Millions, do you fall upon your knees?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the canopy of stars!
Surely He dwells above the stars.
Click here for a five minute flashmob doing the end of the chorale or just go to the video below.

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