Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Beethoven's "An Die Freude" and Two Mysterious Footnotes

Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Beethoven's "An Die Freude" and Two Mysterious Footnotes

Article excerpt

The chapter in Thayer's Beethoven biography that is devoted to the Ninth Symphony includes a footnote which refers to an "early version of Schiller's poem." Furthermore, it suggests that "the thought lies near that it was the early form of the poem, when it was still an Ode to Freedom' (not 'to Joy'), which first aroused enthusiastic admiration for it in Beethoven's mind" (Thayer's Life of Beethoven, p. 895).

I intend to show that the suggestion of an "Ode to Freedom" must be discounted as idle fancy, that the designation "Ode" did not originate from Schiller, and that the reference to young Beethoven's reaction is purely conjectural.


Schiller's "An die Freude"

In the summer of 1785 Schiller caught a young man in the act of attempting suicide. Having talked him out of his sinister plan Schiller gave expression to his happy feelings by composing a poem that in nine stanzas, twelve lines each and all rhymed, extolled the joys of life. The suicide story may be apocryphal, but the nine stanzas, named by Schiller "An die Freude," were published the following year in the second issue of his newly founded journal Rheinische Thalia. The poem, although criticized by some arbiters, met with immediate popular acclaim as a "Gesellschaftsund Trinklied," a drinking song to he sung at merry social gatherings. In fact, the text invited the convivial crowd to empty their glasses.

Even before "An die Freude" reached the public, a friend of the poet had set it to music. Since then no less than a hundred settings have been counted, the most popular being the one composed by J.G. Naumann, which found its way into a number of German song collections. It also hears the distinction of having lieen denounced because of its faulty declamation by Richard Wagner. In the light of Beethoven's noble melodic line, Naumann's blithesome tune can easily he called "pop art" of its time, and in the minds of listeners around 1800 this might have been quite commensurate with Schiller's poem. Since we have come to associate "An die Freude" with the Ninth Symphony, the term "pop art" sounds almost sacrilegious. However, a study of all the stanzas, including those rather odious ones which Beethoven omitted, will justify Schiller's own low opinion of his early poetic effort. In 1800 he called the poem "durchaus fehlerhaft" ("totally imperfect") and named it "ein schlechtes Gedicht" ("a bad poem"), which had conformed to the flawed taste of its time and, therefore, had enjoyed the honor of becoming a "Volksgedicht." Schiller concluded that this alone, the poem's popularity, was its value, although "nicht für die Welt noch für die Dichtkunst" ("not for the world and not for the art of poetry").

"An die Freude" underwent changes when Schiller, five years before he died, prepared the definitive edition of his works. He then eliminated the ninth stanza altogether and rewrote the sixth and seventh lines of the first stanza. Here, the original words "Was der Mode Schwert geteilt, Bettler werden Fürstenbrüder" were made to read "Was die Mode streng geteilt, Alle Menschen werden Brüder," which is the text of the Ninth Symphony.

Notwithstanding Schiller's alterations, the poem's original text as first printed in Thalia has not fallen into oblivion. An edition of Schiller's works of 1835 included the Thalia version in the form of footnotes. Even in our time, several researched Schiller editions have preferred to present the Thalia version as the authentic text. Ordinarily, however, "An die Freude" has been reprinted according to Schiller's final wishes.

Nowhere, but nowhere - and this includes all editions, biographies, histories of German literature - have I encountered a reference to "Freiheit." I conclude, therefore, that we are still waiting for justification of Thayer's enigmatic footnote (which is not to he found in the German edition revised by Riemann!). As far as the designation "Ode" is concerned, it can he easily proven that neither Schiller nor his contemporaries applied it to "An die Freude. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.