In my Poetry Corner during the December celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, I feature the song, “A Song of Joy,” the English version of “Himno a la Alegria” by Miguel Ríos, a renowned Spanish Rock & Roll singer and songwriter. Released in May 1970 in the United States and the United Kingdom, “A Song of Joy” hit the Top Charts.
Miguel Ríos’ song is a symphonic rock adaptation of “Ode to Joy,” the English version of “Ode an die Freude,” composed by the German poet Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and later revised in 1803. Ludwig van Beethoven used Schiller’s poem in the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, known as “the Choral,” completed in 1824, nineteen years after Schiller’s death. Sung by four vocal soloists and a chorus, the “Ode to Joy” endures to this day as a celebration of the brotherhood and unity of mankind.
Growing up in Guyana, I was exposed to classical music through movies featuring the life and work of some of the great classical composers. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is numbered among my favorites. Whenever I listen to “Ode to Joy,” it’s Miguel Ríos’ lyrics that I recall.
Since May 2012, the YouTube video of a Flash Mob performance in Spain of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” has been making its rounds on Facebook. The video has reached over three million viewers to date. It’s an uplifting piece of music and chorale. A better way forward is possible, it says.
The Hong Kong Festival Orchestra Flash Mob performance in August 2013 is also making the rounds on the social network. In just four months, the young musicians and singers have already attracted over 106,000 viewers.
In Connecticut, USA, the Flash Mob performance by the Hartt School of Music and Hartford Chorale in October 2012 has gained 108,000 views to date.
It’s no coincidence that Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” has become a rallying call in a time of growing inequality in the USA and worldwide and disenchantment with unfettered capitalism.
Schiller and Beethoven lived during a period of great upheavals: the Industrial Revolution, French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, a reorganization of Europe, rise of Nationalism, rise of the Russian Empire, and the height of expansion of the British Empire.
When Miguel Ríos released his “Himno a la Alegria” in 1969, the repressive dictatorship government of Francisco Franco faced widespread worker strikes and rebellion among university students. Franco’s death in 1975 ended his thirty-six years of tyranny. In the United States, eyes were on the Soviet Union and the containment of communism. The “Cold War” and “arms race” led to fears of a nuclear war.
My Haiku poem, “Prelude to Joy,” was inspired by the line for love and understanding from Miguel Ríos “A Song of Joy.”
Come sing a song of joy for peace shall come, my brother
Sing, sing a song of joy for men shall love each other.
See the complete song and more at my Poetry Corner December 2013.