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Ode To Joy In English

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The Problem

I really, really like singing along to music I enjoy. I really, really like the Ode To Joy.

Under normal circumstances, there would be no particular problem here; I’d just go learn the German lyrics (I’ve done this sort of thing before; it’s not that hard (side note: I’ve memorized the lyrics to A Cruel Angel’s Thesis, at the cost of non-trivial effort, even though I’ve never watched the show; there’s something wrong with me)).

Corrupted By My Childhood

However, I don’t actually speak German, which means the emotional impact of learning the German lyrics would be considerably reduced. This, again, would normally not be a problem (see examples above), except that I had the (un)fortunate experience of learning a fantastic set of English lyrics to the Ode To Joy in choir class in high school.

This particular translation is by Henry G. Chapman, and it has the attributes of being simultaneously poetically excellent and matching the scansion of the original.

(For those of you who haven’t tried to do a song translation with those properties (I have), let me assure you that it’s absurdly difficult.)

Since it’s often very hard to find, and is way out of copyright (1910), here’s the relevant lyrics (there’s more, but they don’t go with the good part of the music):

Joy, thou spark from flame immortal
    Daughter of Elysium!
  Drunk with fire, O heav’n-born Goddess,
    We invade thy halidom!
  Let thy magic bring together
    All whom earth-born laws divide;
  All mankind shall be as brothers
    ’Neath thy tender wings and wide.

He that’s had that best good fortune,
    To his friend a friend to be,
  He that’s won a noble woman,
    Let him join our Jubilee!
  Ay, and who a single other
    Soul on earth can call his own;
  But let him who ne’er achieved it
    Steal away in tears alone.

Joy doth every living creature
    Draw from Nature’s ample breast;
  All the good and all the evil
    Follow on her roseate quest.
  Kisses doth she give, and vintage,
    Friends who firm in death have stood;
  Joy of life the worm receiveth,
    And the Angels dwell with God!

So when I get the urge to sing along with the Ode To Joy, the above is, unfortunately, what I actually want to sing along with. This is unfortunate because, as far as I can tell, no-one has recorded a choir doing this version (if you can find me such a thing I will love you forever). I want this sufficiently badly that I’ve considered what it would cost to simply pay a decent classical choir + orchestra to do it, but I expect that would be … alot of money. Possibly several alots.

(Side comment: in terms of poetic imagery, I love this song, but there are some details that are a bit eyaugh, particularly: “lonely people can just fuck right off” (what??) and “all living creatures are filled with joy” (have … you actually looked around at how the world works, at all?, ever?)).

Joyful, But Not Too Joyful

Now, there is a decent runner-up, which is “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”.

There are two problems with this song.

First problem: it’s very Christian. Now, I’m a pretty staunch atheist, but I love singing along with things more than I care about religious content; I know all the Christmas carols, I’ll sing along with any you start, there are a bunch of other hymns I know, etc. However. The hymns and carols I particularly enjoy tend to have a story; this is true of basically all Christmas carols, but take for example “Good King Wenceslas”, “Silent Night”, and non-Christmas hymns such as “Lord Of The Dance” (yes, that’s a hymn; look it up) and “Jerusalem” (pretty much my favorite, although it’s very iffy as a piece of Christian doctrine, srsly).

“Joyful, Joyful” isn’t a story at all, it’s literally just “Man, being Christian is awesome. God is the best”. Having said that, this is also true of “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, both of which I love singing, so whatever, again, it’d be fine if I didn’t have the Chapman version to compare it to.

There is a more profound second problem with it, though, which is that people suck at singing it.

By which I mean they don’t sing it the way I want, naturally.

Specifically, they seem to treat it as a deep, somber, intense, thoughtful thing. I think this is directly related to the first problem: this is a song about how majestic God is and how super happy we are to be praising him, whereas the Ode To Joy is about, well, joy. As a result (or at least I think there’s causation there, but who knows?), people sing them pretty differently, even though it’s the same music.

Let me give you a specific example. This is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s officially-produced, fully mastered version that was presumably done in an actual cathedral and shit . It is, as you’d expect from that group, an amazing choral work. It is ethereal and beautiful and would be entirely capable of feeling me with deep religious feeling if I let it (I am not, in any way, immune to such feelings; long story).

This, on the other hand, is a bunch Japanese people in a mall singing in a mall, and at least the part up until 08:10 is in German (I can’t figure out what’s going on with the part after that; it’s pretty clearly not the German lyrics; is it Japanese?, dunno, but the rest was definitely the German lyrics), which is not their native language.

I dunno about you, but I sure know which one I want to sing along with. Frankly, I think a bunch of Japanese in a mall just owned the Mormons on their own turf.

So, yeah. “Joyful, Joyful” is pretty good, but no-one belts it out the way I’m looking for.

Miscellaneous Commentary

It turns Beethoven’s 9th it’s a pretty major New Year’s song in Japan. Here’s ten thousand Japanese people singing it. No, seriously.

Also, I cannot get over the bald white dude in the Japanese mall version. He just stands out so much. Like, I dunno, maybe there’s a law against Japanese people learning the French Horn? And is that a bowling shirt? LOL.