Beethoven's ninth symphony is considered, by some, to be the greatest piece of music ever written. Its melody is certainly recognized world-wide. sample
It is astonishing, almost unbelievable, that Beethoven wrote this music while he was profoundly deaf. He even conducted the orchestra at its premiere. The crowd, well aware of his disability, held handkerchiefs aloft and waved - a form of visual applause. This is well known, but other aspects of his symphony are perhaps not as well known. For instance, Beethoven did not write the words to the fourth movement, though he did make small changes here and there.
In 1785, Friedrich Schiller wrote a poem, Ode to Freedom, perhaps describing the joy he felt when all people were free. For reasons unclear, he changed this to a more generic Ode to Joy, though a letter to a friend suggests he may have preferred the original version. Freedom and joy are similar in German, Freiheit and Freude, so one can be substituted for the other without disrupting the rhythm of the poem. His Ode to Joy, republished in 1803, served as the basis for the fourth movement of Beethoven's ninth, which was completed in 1824. In fact this symphony is sometimes called the Ode to Joy, after the poem.
What follows is of course an English translation. I know just enough German to wish I knew more - just enough German to see some of the beauty in the original words. Poems always lose a little something in the translation.
The second line refers to Elysium, a location in Greek mythology where righteous and heroic souls dwell after death. It is a place of great joy and tranquility. Many poets, including Homer, described Elysium, and even tried to pin down its location somewhere on the edge of the earth, the earth being flat of course. Apparently the angel in the first stanza, who brings all people together as brothers, comes from Elysium.
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 a soul his own on this earth! Those who cannot, let them slink away from this gathering in tears! Every creature drinks in joy at nature's breast; Good and Bad 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.