In a house of pianists, I listen to a lot of classical music. At least two of my kids, and possibly all three, have played some variation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. Regardless of whether they play a beginner version or a more advanced version, I am always amazed by the joy that I feel when listening to the song. This morning I decided to do a little more research on the piece, wondering what I might find. What I found completely surprised me. In fact, it was really almost overwhelming. I want to share it with you as “Ode to Joy” is such a popular piece of music.
If you’ve been around social media for any length of time, you’ve probably seen this video of the orchestra flash mob. I’d ask you to take a minute and listen to it, though, in light of what I’m about to share with you.
The information I found comes from the Utah Symphony’s blog. No doubt there is a lot more information out there, but the article I found was short and gave the information that I was looking for. Basically, I was curious as to just how deaf Beethoven was when he composed and performed his Ninth Symphony, which includes “Ode to Joy”.
The very short article can be found here. The final paragraph, though, is so very compelling:
In the first performance of Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Beethoven pounded out the beats he couldn’t hear (his hearing now completely gone). According to one witness, “the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them.” Beethoven was given five standing ovations – people waved handkerchiefs in the air and raised their hands and hats so Beethoven, who was now deaf, could see the response. Never before had the theater seen such an enthusiastic response from the audience. In the end, he truly conducted an “Ode to Joy,” which may be a tribute to his life. Though it was hard, frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming, his was a fulfilled life that would be celebrated, at least nightly, somewhere around the world to this day.
Beethoven’s hearing deteriorated over his lifetime due to the ringing in his ears. Yet he composed some of the great masterpieces we know today. According to the article, he may have suffered from other health issues as well.
Yet, Beethoven set “Ode to Joy” to music.
“Ode to Joy” is a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in the late 1700s. You can read the full text here. It was a poem that Beethoven had wanted to put to music for a long time, but was not able to come up with the right tune and form.
Deteriorating hearing, possible health and mental issues, and he wrote one of the most well-known, joy-inspiring pieces of all times.
And did you see in the paragraph above? The very first time he performed his Ninth Symphony, he was completely deaf.
Presumably, the only times he ever heard the song were when he was writing it.
And that’s when I stopped.
What would make Beethoven have such a connection to “Ode to Joy” when his own life was filled with such frustration and grief? The article references death of a parent, a thwarted attempt at marriage, and the health and mental issues he struggled with.
Ode to Joy.
Composed by one of the most famous pianists.
And he could not hear it performed.
I look at this and struggle to understand how Beethoven could have felt joy.
This is pure speculation on my part, but because Beethoven was so isolated from the world around him due to his loss of hearing, maybe he had to dig deeper to find joy.
Maybe he knew something that we need to grab hold of this Christmas season – that joy isn’t found in gifts, in interactions with the world. Maybe Beethoven understood that joy came from within, deep within.
Joy is not something the world can give us. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5).
This Christmas, let’s remember that we can have joy, whatever our circumstances may be, if we have the Lord in our lives.