Ode to Joy and Beethoven's Deafness!
Did you know that Beethoven was deaf? By the time he wrote his Ninth Symphony (which includes “Ode to Joy”) he couldn’t hear a single note. Think about that for a second. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the most important classical pieces of all time. It was the first symphony to combine a choir and solo vocalists with a full orchestra. It is over an hour long. AND HE COMPOSED THE WHOLE THING IN HIS HEAD WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO HEAR ANY OF IT OUT LOUD. WHAT!!?!
Talk about perfect pitch! No really, let’s talk about it. Perfect pitch is the ability to identify a note without any reference tone. It’s like imagining the color blue perfectly without being able to see it (which most of us can do) except imagining a B Flat perfectly without being able to hear it (which is an extremely rare skill!) Beethoven was able to imagine every note played by every single instrument and sung by every single choir member, and write it all down, without ever being able to hear it out loud. That. Is. Mind. Blowing. ?
Just take a second to skip around listening to different bits of this symphony and try to imagine composing it all in your head!
Beethoven wasn’t born deaf, he started losing his hearing at age 26. He composed many pieces before and during his gradual hearing loss. I would guess that continuing to compose after he was profoundly deaf was more like remembering the way notes sounded and then putting them together in new and brilliant ways. The only way he could have done this is if he had already solidified incredible musical understanding, skill, and creativity before he started losing his hearing. And the importance of early childhood music education strikes again!! Beethoven started learning the piano very young with a father and grandfather who were both musicians and then studied with some of the best musicians of the time including Haydn and Mozart.
OK SO, let’s get that early childhood music education for our kids by listening to Beaker from The Muppets perform my favorite version of “Ode to Joy” ever created! (Maybe second favorite to our Music Class version, of course.)
One more fun fact – the lyrics for “Ode to Joy” are actually a poem by Friedrich Schiller. Beethoven was moved by the poem and wrote music to it. He tried out that music in a few other settings over many years, but none were nearly as famous or successful as the final version in his ninth symphony. The title "Ode to Joy" has basically become synonymous with Beethoven's symphony! Here is a really awesome video of an enormous crowd doing a sing-along to the original lyrics in German!
Here are a few more fun videos if you’re going down the Beethoven/Ode to Joy rabbit hole!
- The best video explaining all about Beethoven’s hearing loss
- A ragtime version of Ode to Joy that is incredibly fun
- An easy and not-so-easy piano tutorial for how to play the piece! These videos are mesmerizing to me so I hope they’re fun for any older sibling (or parent) practicing piano!
- Apparently, Ode To Joy is a flashmob favorite because I found about a hundred versions on Youtube. Here’s the best!
- Beethoven the dog.
And to end our blog this week here is a very old Music Class video set to our version of "Ode to Joy."