Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”

An Anthem of Freedom and Joy

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), one of the most famous and influential classical composers, overcame tremendous hardships in life. Despite his early interest and success in music—he gave his first concert at the age of 7—by the time he was in his late 20s, he began losing his hearing.

At age 41, he gave up conducting and performing in public but continued to compose music. It was, however, in the last 15 years of his life, that he composed many of his most admired works.

His Symphony No. 9 was first performed on May 7, 1824. It was a revolutionary work, unappreciated by critics but welcomed with enthusiasm by the people.

It is said that Beethoven was completely deaf by this time and unable to hear the shouts of “Bravo!” from the audience. Through his long struggle, he had revealed the triumph of the human heart, opening up a new path not only for himself, but for the development of music and culture. Thus, his “Ode to Joy” serves as a universal symbol of human effort and victory.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the roar of the
spirit of that great musical genius, who proclaimed,
“At the end of the suffering, there is joy!”
—Daisaku Ikeda, February 5, 1999, World Tribune, p. 4

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, on October 3, 1990, in celebration of Germany’s reunification, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was performed concluding with some 1 million people singing the choral section “Ode to Joy.”

The following month, at the November 16 Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting, SGI President Ikeda suggested that SGI members put on a large-scale choral performance of “Ode to Joy.”

In December 1990, based on transcripts that they themselves later deemed inaccurate, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood criticized several points in President Ikeda’s November 16 speech, taking out of context or grossly misinterpreting his words. This included their claim that singing the lyrics to “Ode to Joy” support Christianity and therefore constitutes slander of the Mystic Law, when in fact it honors the highest potential of the human spirit and is a celebration of inner joy and human freedom (see The People are Sovereign).

Thus began the priesthood’s efforts to dismantle the SGI.

Almost a year later, on November 28, 1991, Nichiren Shoshu’s high priest, Nikken, excommunicated the SGI and its members throughout the world. On December 27, the Soka Gakkai submitted a petition signed by some 16.25 million people worldwide demanding Nikken’s resignation. In the end, it was Nikken who had been “excommunicated” by a global alliance of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, 16.25 million strong.

Now, 25 years later, we continue to proudly sing “Ode to Joy” in celebration of our Spiritual Independence from the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.