One of the most common excerpts required for orchestral cello auditions is the opening to the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The excerpt begins with a recitative-like section that foreshadows the baritone solo that comes later in the movement. After the recitative, the cellos leap into one of the most well-known tunes in all of the classical repertoire: Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
The Ode to Joy is a simple yet timeless melody, made all the more powerful for its simplicity. In my mind, it is forever tied to the lyrics written by the Presbyterian minister Henry van Dyke in 1907:
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;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
– Henry van Dyke, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee” (first stanza)
Joy plays a central role in music-making, in art, and perhaps most importantly, in the life of a Christian. Without joy in the depth and diversity of sound, there cannot be true expression in music. Without joy in the creative process, there cannot be breath and energy in art. Without joy in the glory of our Lord, there cannot be richness in life. This doesn’t mean that life, art, or music are all “lovey-dovey” and that everything will always be wonderful and great. Rather, it means that even in the difficult times – even when the music is full of discord and the art is conveying pain – joy can and should be found in the act of creation and the very fact of being alive.
While van Dyke’s words are a wonderful exclamation of praise, they are also a fervent prayer: “Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!”
May your life be full of joy today.