What are the lyrics to Beethoven’s triumphant ‘Ode to Joy’?

26 August 2022, 15:38

Beethoven's great choral anthem is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller
Beethoven's great choral anthem is based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller. Picture: Alamy

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

We explore the German and English text to ‘Ode to Joy’ – the triumphant choral climax of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

For over 20 years, Beethoven had been fascinated with German poet Friedrich Schiller’s haunting poem An die Freude (‘Ode to Joy’). Penned by Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1808, it was the latter version that formed the basis for Beethoven’s famous musical setting in his Ninth Symphony.

After adding some extra opening lines...

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
Und freudenvollere.

Freude!
Freude!

... the German composer set the text to a triumphant hymnal theme, which became the fourth and final movement of his ‘Choral’ Symphony.

“The Ninth is the culmination of Beethoven’s genius,” says Beethoven expert and Classic FM presenter, John Suchet. “He uses solo voices in a symphony for the first time, setting the words of Schiller’s poem An die Freude. It is the longest and most complex of all his symphonies, which we may regard it as the pinnacle of his achievement, because it is his last symphony – but he was working on his Tenth when he died.”

Read more: The remarkable story of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony No. 9

Is ‘Ode to Joy’ the Anthem of Europe?

The melody to ‘Ode to Joy’ is also the ‘Anthem of Europe’, used to represent shared European values.

‘Ode to Joy’ symbolises hope, unity and fellowship, making the chorus a fine fit for a union’s official anthem.

Beethoven’s melody, without Schiller’s text, was adopted in 1985 as the official anthem of the European Community, which since 1993 is the European Union (EU).

Read more: This absolutely epic Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ flashmob is still the greatest

Why is the ‘Ode to Joy’ so famous?

Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ has become known as an anthem of both protest and peace. Its most famous moment in the spotlight was perhaps on Christmas Day in 1989, when Leonard Bernstein conducted a performance to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, replacing the word ‘Freude’ (joy) with ‘Freiheit’ (freedom).

What are the German lyrics to ‘Ode to Joy’?

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
Und freudenvollere.

Freude!
Freude!

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.

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!

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.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

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.

What are the English lyrics to ‘Ode to Joy’?

O friends, not these tones!
But let’s strike up more agreeable ones,
And more joyful.

Joy!
Joy!

Joy, beautiful spark of Divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly one, thy sanctuary!
Thy magic binds again
What custom strictly divided;
All people become brothers,
Where thy gentle wing abides.

Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt,
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Add his to the jubilation!
Yes, and also whoever has just one soul
To call his own in this world!
And he who never managed it should slink
Weeping from this union!

All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breasts.
All the Just, all the Evil
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us and grapevines,
A friend, proven in death.
Ecstasy was given to the worm
And the cherub stands before God.

Gladly, as His suns fly
through the heavens’ grand plan
Go on, brothers, your way,
Joyful, like a hero to victory.

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss to all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Are you collapsing, millions?
Do you sense the creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy!
Above stars must He dwell