In all the world, I have no more favorite piece of music than the Ode To Joy, taken from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Today as I was listening to it, and wondering what these loud, robust German voices could be proclaiming, I remembered an article from The Moral Compass, about Beethoven's last days, and the writing of this symphony.
That article ascribed to Beethoven an exemplary faith of one facing his last days, where he says "...Indeed, a hard lot has fallen upon me! But I resign myself to the will of destiny, and only ask God constantly to grant through His divine will that, so long as I must still suffer death in life here, I am protected from penury. This will give me the strength to bear my lot, however hard and grievous, with resignation to the will of the Almighty". Sounds pretty faithful to me. It was based on this quote, as well as my love for the Ode To Joy, that I decided to look up it's lyrics today, and got a big fat shock.
Beethoven was deaf, from his early twenties on and upon the diagnosis of this malady, he went through a period of suicidal tendencies. He was also thought to be bipolar. His childhood was troubled, as the son of an alcoholic father, who's mother and siblings died early on from tuberculosis and who was forced to raise his two younger brothers. Yet that never stopped the amazing work that this freelance musician composed. In addition to writing some of history's most notable works, he was also a skilled pianist, who began performing as a child and was declared by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to be a musician who would "astonish the entire world".
What I find most fascinating about Ludwig van Beethoven, however, was his religious beliefs (huge surprise, I know). Some think that Beethoven was a Freemason, but others have called him an atheist, as well as a Deist in the fashion of Goethe. Upon a closer look into both his statements and the themes of his music, it seems to me that Beethoven was at best, a Deist (though in direct contradiction to his words above about the will of the Almighty), if not a Pantheist. The guy's music rocked, but his faith was not so rock solid.
A close look at the words sung in the Ode To Joy show that the song is about the "brotherhood of man" and though references are made to God being worshipped in the heavens, by the cherubs, never once is man shown to give God such regard, but instead man's role in this ode is to turn to one another for solace and peace and joy, and then to the wine poured by the pagan god Elysium.
This theme is repeated throughout as is this sentiment, "Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, daughter of Elysium, we enter fire imbibed, heavenly, thy sanctuary. Thy magic reunites those whom stern custom has parted; all men will become brothers under thy gentle wing."
What the ?*%$??? Talk about disappointed. Here in my head, I had always idealized this dramatic and moving piece of work as being a hymn to the Lord, praising His attributes amongst creation, much like Francis Of Assisi's "All Creatures Of Our God and King" (probably in my top 5 favorite hymns of all times). Sigh! Well, we all know what happens when you assume...
Man was clearly created to worship and praise the Sovereign, Almighty Father, through the merits of the Son, and with the aid of the Spirit. Yet, as I searched for more lyrics of Beethoven's, never once was this alluded to, much less written about. All I can do is hope that the last words of this famous composer, "Not yet! I need more time!", which were accompanied by a shaking face aimed at stormy skies, were in response to a call to salvation rather than any unfinished business, musical or otherwise, here on earth. Till the day, in heaven, when I can worship with songs never before heard, and of such great worth and talent, that they are only divine, I think I will continue to delude myself by ignoring the meaning behind Beethoven's works and add my own words of praise, eternal and divine to their beautiful sounds.