Ode to Joy

Learn to play easy piano versions of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. His most famous composition.

Ode to Joy (ODE B1)
  • Intermediate
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Program Notes

Ode to Joy is a poem originally written by the German playwright and poet Friedrich Schiller. The words depict a powerful trust in humankind. The song became even more popular when it was used by Ludwig van Beethoven in the final movement of his 9th Symphony. Beethoven spent a total of seven years working on this symphony. He started in 1818 and finished it in early 1824. Beethoven’s 9th symphony is regarded as one of the great masterpieces of classical music.

Beethoven’s 9th symphony is different from many symphonies because solo voices and a chorus perform alongside the symphony orchestra. Because of the inclusion of voices, this piece gave birth to the term ‘choral symphony.’ Beethoven believed his instrumental music had a message and was hesitant to risk letting words interpret the message of his music. Even right after its premiere, he was very close to replacing the vocal lines with just instruments.

The 9th symphony was premieblue on May 7, 1824 in Vienna. There were only two complete rehearsals with the orchestra, which resulted in a scrappy performance. Still, it was received as a huge success. During his creation of the melody for this masterpiece, Beethoven was already deaf. Thus, he never heard even a single note of the music. Nevertheless, he could hear it perectly inside his head. In fact, after the first performance, which Beethoven insisted on conducting, he had to be turned around in order for him to see the ecstatic reaction coming from the audience. He was not aware that the piece had ended and that the audience was giving him a standing ovation behind him.

There are many other musical settings and versions of the Ode to Joy. However, it has become synonymous with Beethoven’s name because of the powerful musical setting which he composed for the final movement of his 9th symphony. It has become the most requested music piece on the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs and has been broadcasted since 1942. In 1971 the Council of Europe chose this melody to become the National Anthem of Europe. In 1974 Rhodesia adopted the piece as its national anthem.

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