“The signature of a former member of the nazi party [Karajan] at the bottom of this symbol of Europe, that we like democracy, is a problem of moral and political”

Esteban Buch, a musicologist

“All men become brothers.” How to better define the european spirit, born after the Second world War, who wished to restore a lasting peace on the Old continent? This verse is from the poem of Friedrich von Schiller’s Ode to Joy , written in 1785, and put in music in the fourth movement of the Symphony no. 9 of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1824. A air become the official anthem of the european institutions to its universal character and its values, but whose words written by Schiller are absent. A peculiarity linked to the turbulent history of the european anthem. This is recalled by Esteban Buch in his reference book Beethoven’s Ninth: a political history (Gallimard).

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throughout the Nineteenth century, Beethoven and his Ode are seen as symbols of freedom, of emancipation. It is nicknamed the”hymn of the masons of Europe”, in reference to the role played by the lodges in the democratic development of the european. The ceremonies of the centenary of Beethoven’s death in 1927, restore pride of place to Beethoven and his work in the political imaginary of the Twentieth century. “The commemorations allow us to give an image that represents the political and cultural challenges,” explains Esteban Buch Monday, may 20, on France Musique. It is the one time a little happy in Between the two world wars, and the celebrations help to spread the message of Beethoven, hit the seal of the fraternity.”

The original version, after the fourth movement of the Symphony no. 9 Beethoven

After its creation, the Ode to Joy quickly became an object of politics. All ideologies take ownership of it. “The Soviets say that this represents all that is best in the communist utopia, the Americans say that it is the symbol of liberalism”, explains Esteban Buch. During this time, personalities sifflotent the 9th Symphony advocating for the construction of a european federation. As Aristide Briand in 1929. At the league of Nations, he mentions the pan-european project of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who wishes to adopt Ode to Joy as the anthem. The War passes by and puts an end to any hope of unity.

Beethoven and Europe

the creation of The Council of Europe in 1949 to sign the great return to european ideals on the table of negotiations. Meanwhile, Beethoven had lost its aura. On the eve of the 1950s, the classical music goes out of fashion, in favour of more contemporary music. In addition, Beethoven had suffered from its use during the War. If it is not “idéologisé” by the nazis, such as Wagner, the 9th remains one of the most performed plays in Germany between 1939 and 1945, and its composer remain a figure huge for the Germans.

In 1949, while the Council of Europe, considering its symbolism, the flag takes precedence over that of the national anthem. Compositions are sent by individuals, “but they are not terrible, if we are to believe the european officials,” laughs Esteban Buch on France Musique . Beethoven’s is forgotten.

The project lagging until 1970, losing in the pipes of the Board. And we need a new commemoration, that of the 200 years of the birth of Beethoven, to deliver his music to the tastes of the day. The outputs of the film Ludwig van of Mauricio Kagel in 1970, and especially clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, end up réintéresser the public a genius German. In the second appears a version of Ode to Joy passed through the mill electronics.

Words, words…

In 1971, the question of words is relegated to a later date. So much relegated that even today, the official version of the european anthem is… without text.

In July 1971, the consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe proposes “the acceptance by the member countries, such as european anthem, the prelude to Ode to Joy , 4th movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony”. It recommends also to the other european institutions (including the european Community which became european Union in 1992) to do the same. To this date, the question of words is relegated to a later date. So much relegated that even today, the official version of the european anthem is… without text. “This hymn without words evokes, thanks to the universal language of music, the ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity embodied by Europe,” one can read on the website of the european Union.

Herbert von Karajan in 1965, on the stage, in Vienna. Rue des Archives/©Rue des Archives/RDA

This official version is not a classic version of the 9th . Lujo Tončić-Sorinj, secretary general of the Council of Europe between 1969 and 1974, asks his friend Herbert von Karajan directing the Berlin philharmonic orchestra, to interpret, Ode to Joy . A fun party for Karajan, which is considered one of the world’s most talented – and certainly the most influential. It proposes that the Council prepare a special arrangement. The chef slows down the tempo and enhances the orchestration. He gets a long version of about 2 minutes: the official version.

The version of Karajan Ode to Joy , the anthem of the european institutions

A new arrangement means that Karajan became, in fact, a co-author of the european anthem. Even today, the heirs of the austrian chef earn royalties on every sale of the arrangement, and on its broadcasts. A reward that can be queried when there is a hymn, although in theory, the broadcasts on the official do not report anything to the family.

More serious, the past of Herbert von Karajan has something to talk about. From 1935 to 1945, the musician joined the nazi party. In the courts of denazification, he will plead expedience. Yet, he “fills out a form, as from April 8, 1933 in Salzburg in Austria, but the approach has remained without result because of the hiring freeze that followed the seizure of power by Hitler,” recalls Esteban Buch in his article ” anthem, which smells of sulphur “.

Mitterrand Emmanuel Macron: uses and re-uses

In 1981, while he savored his victory at the presidential election in front of the Pantheon, François Mitterrand listens to a choir of children singing the hymn, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. AFP/AFP

Since then, Ode to Joy has been used a bit everywhere in the world. Despite the strong protests of the european institutions, the racist government of Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, uses between 1974 and 1980, Ode to Joy as the national anthem. In 1981, while he savored his victory at the presidential election in front of the Pantheon, François Mitterrand listens to a choir of children to sing along to the song. 26 years later, for the same event, Emmanuel Macron made his entrance in the courtyard of the Louvre in front of his supporters on the european anthem, reinforcing its strong position pro-EU.

And yet, regularly, a question comes up in public debate: should it change the european anthem? For Esteban Buch, there is no doubt: “the signature of a former member of the nazi party at the bottom of this symbol of Europe, that we like democracy, is a moral issue and policy”. Committed, the author hopes that the european institutions are changing the arrangement of Ode to Joy , especially in this period conducive to “aggressive nationalism, which upholds the phenomenon of rupture, of fence.”

the question of The modification of the hymn has not, until now, not had great impact in the european elections, which will take place in France this Sunday. Who knows if she does come and not in the near future, at a time when the Union is showing signs of weakness?

SEE ALSO – An orchestra of smartphones incorporates “ode to joy”

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