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Classical Breakdown

32. Beethoven's joyful Symphony No. 9

December 1, 2020

It was the first time a chorus was included in a symphony, and it was Beethoven's grandest and most ambitious yet. There is so much to hear and discover before the final "Ode to Joy" that has been used as a beacon of freedom the world over. With musical examples, Bill Bukowski and John Banther explore the entire piece, from its opening notes to the final crescendo.

Show Notes

Recommended recordings

John Elliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir

Herbert Bloomsted conducting Staatskapelle Dresden and the Leipzig Radio Chorus 

Caroline Ungher

Caroline Ungher

The singer who turned Beethoven around to face the audience when the symphony ended at the premiere. Beethoven's hearing loss was to the point he didn't realize the music was over. 


Text to Schiller's Ode to Joy (Beethoven's additional lines in italics)

Oh friends, not these sounds! 
Let us instead strike up more pleasing 
and more joyful ones! 


Joy, beautiful spark of divinity, 
Daughter from Elysium, 
We enter, burning with fervour, 
heavenly being, your sanctuary! 
Your magic brings together 
what custom has sternly divided. 
All men shall become brothers, 
wherever your gentle wings hover. 

Whoever has been lucky enough 
to become a friend to a friend, 
Whoever has found a beloved wife, 
let him join our songs of praise! 
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul 
his own on this earth! 
Any who cannot, let them slink away 
from this gathering in tears! 

Every creature drinks in joy 
at nature's breast; 
Good and Evil alike 
follow her trail of roses. 
She gives us kisses and wine, 
a true friend, even in death; 
Even the worm was given desire, 
and the cherub stands before God. 

Gladly, just as His suns hurtle 
through the glorious universe, 
So you, brothers, should run your course, 
joyfully, like a conquering hero. 

Be embraced, you millions! 
This kiss is for the whole world! 
Brothers, above the canopy of stars 
must dwell a loving father. 
Do you bow down before Him, you millions? 
Do you sense your Creator, O world? 
Seek Him above the canopy of stars! 
He must dwell beyond the stars.