“O Friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing,
more joyful sounds!”
~Ludwig van Beethoven,
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor: Choral, Op. 125
Though the choice is admittedly unoriginal, bordering on cliché, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the Ode to Joy, is my favorite piece of music. From the first time I encountered it as a small child, secretly using my older sister’s music books to teach myself to play the piano, through that year of college in which I listened to it exclusively, and in spite of all the arguably more genius or groundbreaking pieces my well-intentioned and well-educated musical friends have introduced to me, the 9th is still my favorite. To me, it epitomizes music. It is what cavemen tried to communicate when they first struck bones against hollowed gourds, and what today’s artists merely attempt to mimic in terms of meaning and beauty.
Most people agree to some extent that there is no beauty without pain. Periods of intense suffering and darkness make us vulnerable and sensitive, so that, by contrast, the tiniest hints of goodness and light feel like overwhelming waves of beauty. In the contrast lies joy.
The 9th is filled with contrasts—presto and adagio, bass and alto, dissonance and resolution. Through these contrasts, Beethoven makes his Ode, communicating this message: Yes, the world is filled with pain brought on by division, isolation, injustice, and death. But Joy, daughter of the Divine, offers unity, brotherhood, grace, and life. She invites us to endure courageously on the path to a better world. She challenges us to be like the Gods, tempering pain with beauty as we lift our voices in ever more pleasing, more joyful sounds.
This is my response to Joy’s invitation.