Posts Tagged ‘Friedrich Schiller’

Ludwig van Beethoven – lonely giant

Monday, April 10th, 2017


Ludwig van Beethoven, German composer and pianist (1770-1827), is still considered a giant of classical music. His family had Dutch roots, and Beethoven sometimes concealed the fact that the Dutch “van” in his name does not denote nobility as the German “von” does. In his late 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to experience hearing loss. Toward the end of his life, he was so deaf that he had to be turned around at the end of the premiere of his famous Ninth Symphony to watch the audience applaud because he could not hear them clapping, nor had he heard the orchestra playing.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Early Years

Unlike his grandfather, who was a renowned musician in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven’s father was a mediocre singer with a fondness for alcohol. He became young Beethoven’s first teacher and taught with brutality. Neighbors recalled that the small boy had to stand on top of a footstool to reach the piano keys, his father beating him for any hesitation or mistake. Ludwig van Beethoven not only often ended up weeping while playing the piano, his father also locked him into the cellar, beat him or deprived him of sleep when young Beethoven did not perform to his expectations.

In 1787, the then teenage Beethoven travelled to Vienna for the first time, hoping to study with Mozart. Two weeks later, his mother fell ill, and Ludwig returned to Bonn. Following his mother’s death, his father slipped even deeper into alcoholism, and Ludwig van Beethoven became responsible for the care of his two younger brothers. He spent the next five years in Bonn. Despite these personal struggles, Beethoven composed a significant number of works during this period, showing influences of Mozart and Haydn. In late 1792, Beethoven left for Vienna for the second time to further his studies and established himself as a piano virtuoso.

In his late 20s, Ludwig van Beethoven began to notice some hearing loss. Over time, the loss became profound and Beethoven fell into depression. He wrote to a friend, “I must confess that I lead a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity; but in my profession it is a terrible handicap.” – losing-hearing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Middle Years

Despite his worsening deafness and many personal setbacks, (insurmountable class differences hampered his love life, one of his brothers passed away causing Beethoven to become entangled in a legal dispute with his sister-in-law over the custody of the couple’s nine-year-old son), Ludwig van Beethoven dedicated himself wholeheartedly to musical study. Between 1803 and 1812, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Later Years

In time, Beethoven’s hearing deteriorated to the point that conversation became so difficult that he had to make use of conversation books. He became lonely, short-tempered and absent-minded. Still, he continued to compose at a furious pace. Some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life when he was quite unable to hear. Works from this period are the most complex, such as the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony, which features an elaborate choral setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode An die Freude (Ode to Joy), championing the brotherhood of humanity. Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827 at the age of 56.

Ludwig von Beethoven’s Major Works

His works include 9 symphonies, 7 concerti, 1 opera, 2 masses, 32 piano sonatas, 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas, 1 sonata for French horn, 16 string quartets, 5 string quintets, 7 piano trios, 5 string trios, many chamber music pieces and many others.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Ode to Joy – European National Anthem

Monday, March 27th, 2017


Two hundred years after inception, Ode to Joy is still as popular as ever. Throughout the world, it is seen as a song about resistance to war and repression. It is even speculated that Schiller originally entitled his lyric poem “Ode An die Freiheit” (Ode to Freedom) and later changed it to “Ode An die Freude” (Ode to Joy).

First written in 1785 by German poet Friedrich Schiller as a celebration of the brotherhood of man, Ode to Joy is best known as the 4th and final movement in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When the poem was republished in 1808, Schiller made some minor revisions. This revised version forms the basis for Beethoven’s famous movement. The Ninth Symphony was completed in 1824.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Ludwig van Beethoven, photo courtesy of wikipedia. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820.

Becoming the European National Anthem

In 1972, the Council of Europe adopted Beethoven’s famous movement as the European National Anthem. In 1985, it also became the anthem of the European Community and in 1993 that of the European Union. The European Anthem does not replace the national anthems of its member states. It celebrates their shared values and their unity in diversity. It symbolizes not only the European Union but also Europe in a wider sense. Just as Schiller’s lyric poem, the European Anthem symbolizes the human race as one of brothers.

Due to the large number of languages used in the European Union, the European National Anthem is purely instrumental. In the universal language of music, this anthem expresses the European ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity. It is played on official occasions, such as the opening of Parliament following elections and at formal sittings.

Ode to Joy has been heard around the World

In Chile, women sang Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in the streets and sometimes outside torture prisons during Pinochet’s dictatorship to raise the hope of inmates. In 1989, Chinese protesters sang the Ode to Joy during their march on Tiananmen Square. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Ninth on both sites of the Berlin Wall to celebrate freedom.

German and English Lyrics to the Ode to Joy

Ode an die Freude                                 Ode to Joy

Freude, schoener Goetterfunken             Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,

Tochter aus Elysium.                                 Daughter from Elysium.

Wir betreten feuertrunken                       We enter, burning with fervor,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!                   heavenly being, your sanctuary!


Deine Zauber binden wieder                    Your magic brings together

Was die Mode streng geteilt;                    what custom has sternly divided;

Alle Menschen werden Brueder,              All men shall become brothers,

wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt.                  Wherever your gently wing hovers.


Wem der grosse Wurf gelungen             Whoever has been lucky enough

Eines Freundes Freund zu sein,              to become a friend to a friend,

Wer ein holdes Weib errungen                Whoever has found a beloved wife,

Mische seinen Jubel ein!                          let him join in the jubilation!


Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele                      Yes, and anyone who can call one soul

Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!              His own on this earth!

Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der steel             And who cannot, let them slink away

weinend sich aus diesem Bund.              from this gathering in tears.


Freude trinken alle Wesen                      Every creature drinks in joy

An den Bruesten der Natur;                    At nature’s breast;

Alle Guten, alle Boesen                            Good and Evil alike

Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.                          Follow her trail of roses.


Kuesse gab sie uns und Reben,               She gave us kisses and wine,

Einen Freund geprueft im Tod;               A true friend, even in death;

Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,         Even the worm was given desire,

und der Cherub steht vor Gott.                And the cherub stands before God.


Froh wie seine Sonnen fliegen                  Gladly, as his suns hurtle

Durch des Himmels praecht’gen Plan,    Through the glorious universe,

Laufet, Brueder, eure Bahn,                       So you, brothers, should run your course,

Freudig wie ein Held zu Siegen.                Joyfully like a conquering hero.


Seid umschlungen Millionen!                   Be embraced, you millions!

Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!                  This kiss is for the whole world!

Brueder ueber’m Sternenzelt                    Brothers, above the canopy of stars

Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.                  Must dwell a loving Father.


Ihr stuerzt nieder, Millionen?                   Do you bow down before Him, millions?

Ahnest Du den Schoepfer, Welt?             Do you sense the Creator, world?

Such ihn ueber’m Sternenzelt.                  Seek him above the canopy of stars.

Ueber Sternen muss er wohnen.              He must dwell beyond the stars.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of