During the holiday season, we hope you (and I) get to hear and sing one of our favorite hymns, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Somehow it reminds me of Christmas.
The stirring hymn was written in 1907 by Henry Van Dyke, a Princeton University professor of English, who was also a Presbyterian minister. His inspiration was two-fold: the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, and the fourth stanza of Ludwig Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
It’s said that when he finished the poem, he handed it to the president of Williams College, where he had been a guest minister, and said it must be sung to Beethoven’sHymn to Joy.
Except for the Fourth Stanza of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven never wrote a hymn. Yet the melody of the end of the Ninth Symphony, which Beethoven adopted from Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, becomes the “perfect companion,” as one said, for Van Dyke’s text.
Later Van Dyke, a friend to Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, was appointed ambassador to The Netherlands and Luxembourg, and was a Naval chaplain and lieutenant commander during World War I.
In the modern day, American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein took the occasion of the fall of East Germany and the Berlin Wall to go there twice to conduct Beethoven’s Ninth in 1989. Bernstein made one single word change in the presentation, substituting the word “Joy” (“Freude” in German) to “Freedom” (“Freiheit” in German.) This was again a “perfect companion” to what was going on in the world at that time, sung not only to a packed concert hall, seen by a tremendous crowd outside the hall, watching on a giant television monitor, and heard by 100 million people in the live broadcast around the world. (We have that recording on a CD, and it thrills us each time we hear those lyrics and music.)
A recording is “Ode to Freedom: Bernstein in Berlin.” You can see a You Tube video of the concert here. It lasts more than an hour and a half. There is a short excerpt at the start, then a few advertisements interrupting the music. If you like music, hear and see the whole symphony, but listen to the last 25 minutes for the singing.
Bernstein was 72 at the time, and would die from cancer within nine months. Catch the sheer joy of him in his masterful performance at this occasion in Berlin as a holiday treat for yourself.
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Give of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
Thou are giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.