Ode to Joy: The Spark of the Gods

I believe in miracles, or at least in miracles of human achievement against the greatest odds. I invite you to invest the time to contemplate the following miracle:

There are many great human achievements on display in that wonderful 1960s performance extract. There is the symphonic achievement of dozens of skilled musicians and vocalists of the Berlin Philharmonic, guided by the gifted if dictatorial conductor Herbert von Karajan, who also directed the film. In clips no longer freely available online, there is the powerful singing of the quartet composed of bass-baritone Walter Berry, tenor Waldemar Kmentt, contralto Hilde Rössel-Majdan, and soprano Gundula Janowitz. There is the beautiful concert hall designed by Hans Scharoun.

But of course the miracle on display here is the fourth movement of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Ninth Symphony in D minor, commonly known as the Ode to Joy. He based it on a poem by Friedrich Schiller and created the world’s first choral symphony by featuring the human voice on the same level as the symphonic instruments. The miracle is that this, one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, was brought to completion when Beethoven was completely deaf from tinnitus.

When I hear the 9th I always think of how, at its 1824 premiere, Beethoven made his first on-stage appearance in 12 years to a packed hall in Vienna. Michael Umlauf and Beethoven jointly conducted the work, obliged to do so since Beethoven couldn’t hear a blessed thing. When the work ended, Beethoven was several measures off and still gesticulating. Contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Ludwig around so that he could see the audience’s cheers and applause. He received five standing ovations. Ludwig van Beethoven truly had Götterfunken, the poem’s “spark of the Gods”, in his humbled, handicapped, human form.

Below is how the miracle is portrayed, with Hollywood changes, in Immortal BelovedI do love how they portray the harsh reality of what his ears could actually perceive against the joyous music in his mind.

Here is the libretto, with Beethoven’s additions to the original poem by Friedrich Schiller shown in italics:

German original
English translation
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude! (men’s chorus: Freude! )
Freude! (chorus again: Freude! )
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! (Joy!)
Joy! (Joy!)
Freude, schöner Götterfunken*
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods*
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly one, your sanctuary!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and vines,
A friend, proved to the end;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven’s glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
(the finale repeats the words:)
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
(the finale repeats the words:)
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods
Spark of the gods!

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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1 Response to Ode to Joy: The Spark of the Gods

  1. Pingback: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter | MEADOR.ORG

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