Creating music together can be a tremendously joyful act, binding us together in times of celebration and times of hardship. When Beethoven incorporated Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” poem into his Ninth Symphony, it was a radical call for equality, freedom, and brotherhood. All Together: A Global Ode to Joy reimagines Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a 21st century call for unity, justice, and empowerment.
In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, visionary conductor Marin Alsop will lead performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on five continents with nine renowned orchestras as part of a yearlong global project. Partners will reimagine the concert experience for their communities, incorporating newly created music alongside the music of Beethoven and artists from their region. As part of each performance, “Ode to Joy” will be translated into a local language.
The collection of questions and ideas outlined in this guide is intended to be used by educators and artists participating in the project to spark conversations with their students and communities. We hope they can serve as jumping-off points that inspire you to consider new ways of thinking about joy, and create music and art that expresses what joy looks like to you.
Jump to section:
What is joy?
- “Joy for me is sort of a very deep-rooted emotion. It’s like an incredibly huge magnolia tree. You don’t see the beginnings of it. You just feel those roots. And then somehow this incredible beauty just grows.” —Marin Alsop
- “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” —Rumi
- “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.” —James Baldwin
- “Joy is the state in which we are least likely to reflect on ourselves. In the moment of delight, we are; there is nothing we have to do.” —Verena Kast
- “The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.” —Eudora Welty
- “Discovering more joy does not save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” —Desmond Tutu
- “More than a scientific question, the universe is a joyful mystery.” —Pope Francis
What do you think?
Which of the above descriptions of joy do you connect with the most? Why?
What is the difference between happiness and joy?
Describe a time in your life when you felt joy, and create your own definition of joy.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
A Radical Work of Art
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony forever changed the character and direction of classical music. When it premiered in 1824, listeners were either awed or appalled, and battle lines were quickly drawn. Was this a visionary masterpiece, or the final cacophony of an eccentric man who was going deaf? The integration into the symphony of a chorus, vocal soloists, and excerpts from Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” poem were startling innovations. Additional elements of the work—including its structure, sensibility, emotional range, harmonic experimentation, and sheer size—were also new.
Beethoven was almost entirely deaf when he was billed as the conductor for the Ninth Symphony’s Vienna premiere. Although he appeared onstage and beat time as he turned the pages of his score, the orchestra was really conducted by the concertmaster, who instructed the musicians to disregard anything Beethoven told them to do.
“After assisting the conductor at the Vienna premiere, Beethoven had to be turned around by the soprano soloist to acknowledge applause that became suddenly subdued as the audience was confronted firsthand with his deafness—an apt and awesome final curtain for an artist who more than any other relied on his inner ear.“ —Jack Sullivan
As you explore the history of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, we encourage you to watch a series of videos that features Beethoven’s music with commentary by Marin Alsop.
What do you think?
Does Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony still sound radical today? Do you like it?
What is an example of contemporary music or art that you would consider to be radical? Why?
What do you hear in your inner ear? What sounds can you imagine in your mind?
The Words of “Ode to Joy”
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen
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.
Oh friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful
more full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,*
Fire-inspired* we tread
Thy magic power reunites
All that custom* has divided;
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.*
*“Elysium” is an ancient Greek idea of a glorious place where people go after they die.
*“Fire-inspired” is a boastful way to say “bold and courageous.”
*“Custom” refers to the feuds and conflicts of history.
*“Thy gentle wings” is a metaphor for the soaring feeling of joy.
What do you think?
How does this excerpt from Schiller’s poem evoke a sense of joy? How would you describe the voice of the writer?
How do the music and lyrics work together in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony?
What are some written metaphors for your sense of joy?
Marin Alsop on the Power of Beethoven
Beethoven was all about love and joy and celebrating the unity and the potential in humanity. In our contemporary world, we’ve become separated from that. We’re always trying to hang on to material things instead of celebrating the essence of what it is to be human, to be connected.
Something that is often missing in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a sense of the journey from the opening notes of the piece through to the “Ode to Joy.” The audience is waiting for the “Ode to Joy.” Our job as performers is to create this sense of suspense, but also an organic sense that it is all part of a journey.
“Ode to Joy” is about standing up and being counted in this world. It’s about believing in our power as human beings. I think Beethoven would have loved the idea of our celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth by reimagining the Ninth Symphony. By asking artists today to create their own responses to this piece and by bringing the language of the piece into the present day, we can create a new work of art that is celebratory of Beethoven’s original intent.
What do you think?
How would you describe the essence of what it means to be human?
What are some of the ways that you and your community can come together around a shared purpose?
Draw a visual representation of your idea of joy. What colors, shapes, or images will you include? Why?
Write a song with music and lyrics that express your connection to joy.
Work with your friends or family to find activities that you can do together to create feelings of joy.