Five Facts about Ode to Joy

Today, June 21, is European Music Day. You are invited to perform Ode to Joy at 6pm from your home as a tribute to our Frontline workers.


Friedrich Schiller

When I hate I rob myself of something; but when I love I become richer by the object I love

Today, June 21, is European Music Day, and to celebrate we would like to invite you to perform Ode to Joy at 6pm from your home as a tribute to our Frontline workers during these trying times. For more see 

Here are five facts to know about the seminal piece: 


1. Friedrich Schiller wrote the poem Ode to Joy in the summer of 1785 as a celebration of the brotherhood of man. It was first published the following year in the magazine Thalia. Schiller made several revisions to the poem and the final version was published posthumously in 1808.  

2. Beethoven used Ode to Joy in the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony. It was first performed in Vienna in 1824. The composer was a huge admirer of Schiller’s philosophical work as well as that of Goethe and Kant, whose ideals he espoused. In fact, the Ode’s themes of humans as free and rational beings and the sanctity of brotherhood and peace closely align with Beethoven’s beliefs.  

3. Beethoven’s use of the poem marks the first time a famous composer used voices in a symphony. It was a move that was not universally welcomed at the time. Among others, Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi complained in a letter to his patron Clara Maffei that the symphony was ‘marvellous in the first three movements, very badly set in the last.’  


First page of the autograph Passio secundum Joannem
Image of a JS Bach, who wrote St John Passion

4. Time has proved its detractors wrong as it has grown significantly in popularity and the Ode to Joy, together with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 became part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register which acknowledges its significance. 
5. The Ode to Joy became the anthem of the Council of Europe in 1972. In 1985 it became the official anthem of the European Community, and then the EU. It was adopted without lyrics so as not to give preference to one language. There are several unofficial adaptations including Latin and Esperanto. 

6. Over the years Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has remained a protest anthem and a celebration of music. Protestors in Chile sang the piece during a demonstration against the Pinochet dictatorship and Chinese students broadcast it at Tiananmen Square. Leonard Bernstein also performed it on the Christmas Day after the fall of the Berlin Wall at a special concert in the German capital. On that occasion Bernstein changed Schiller’s Ode to Joy to Ode to Freedom from ‘Freude’ to ‘Freiheit’.