I was puzzled to read that a sizable group of individual British musicians and singers had gathered Thursday night in Trafalgar Square in London to play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in response to the historic British vote to leave the European Union. This story was first reported on June 26 in the website Slippedisc.com and was described as a spontaneous response to the vote; you can view a video of the affair on the Slipped Disc website. It’s quite moving and my first thought was to wonder why the musicians and singers were happy that BREXIT passed, especially because I had read prior to the vote that British musicians were largely in favor of remaining. Like many of my first reactions, the thought that this event was expressing approval of BREXIT’s passage was impulsive and uninformed.
“Ode to Joy,” is of course the familiar, final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It is a surprising piece in that it involves choral music in a classical music symphony. The words for the piece are taken slightly-modified from a poem by the German poet Frederich Schiller. So, the musicians and singers were playing a piece of European music. Most telling is that “Ode to Joy” is also the Anthem of the European Union. One phrase in the poem translated from German and copied from the Wikipedia entry for “Ode to Joy” helps explain the sentiment:
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary!
Your magics join again
What custom strictly divided;
All people become brothers,
Where your gentle wing abides.
It speaks to the brotherhood of man. The musicians were playing the EU Anthem as a show of solidarity with their musician brothers in the EU.
Philip Barrett on mixcloud.com offered a report that mixes music and comments from the participants: https://www.mixcloud.com/philip-barrett/an-ode-to-joy-solidarity-with-europe/. It is clear that this was a case of musicians and singers expressing their brotherhood with other musicians and singers. In fact, British musicians/singers are worried about how this will affect funds available to hold concerts, to construct new music halls, and to easily cross borders in Europe as well as whether British musicians/singers will be able to work in the EU nations and EU musicians/singers able to work in Britain.
We will see what unfolds, but I was touched by this outpouring of emotion and display of brotherhood.