Why did the ruling elite of the European Union (the EU) plagiarise Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (the Choral) for their EU Superstate’s official anthem? It uses the prelude from the last movement which includes Beethoven’s choral arrangement of Friedrich Schiller’s  poem Ode to Joy (original German title An die Freude), hence the anthem’s (unofficial) title. For their trans-national wordless equivalent of the Internationale, the Marseillaise, and Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, they could have used instead extracts from Beethoven’s Wellington’ s Victory which includes Rule Britannia, God Save the King and Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre (aka For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow). However, the EU website states ‘this anthem expresses the European ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity’, but is this the whole truth?

Delving deeper, the poem Ode to Joy has an idealistic appeal arising from the Enlightenment of humanism, the brotherhood of humanity and triumph of the, indomitable, human spirit.  Alas, such idealistic sentiments quickly turned sour, giving way to the French Revolution, the Terror and the imperialist reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.   Schiller, the poet of freedom, became somewhat disillusioned and in later life described his poem to a friend as “detached from reality” and “of value maybe for us two, but not for the world, nor for the art of poetry”.  Indeed missing is any non-coercive imperative to evolve towards the stated idealist end result with compassion and humanity; the fatal flaw in idealism which opens up inhumanity or even barbarity.  It is also likely that Schiller, out of fear (of the authorities), changed its original title from Ode to Freedom (Freude for Freiheit).

Beethoven, taking Viennese society by storm as a virtuoso pianist and then as a freelance composer freed of claustrophobic court employment, infused his music with his personality and philosophies of life and politics; mainly freedom, humanism and an unconquerable human spirit.  Despite advancing deafness, he pushed outside the established bounds to lift creativity and invention, and provided a precursor for new musical accomplishments in the years following.  A role model then for what can be achieved when people exert their individuality freed from a dead hand of convention and authoritarian rule; not exactly an aim of the EU especially with its all controlling corporatist inclinations of rule by the few, for the few (big government, big business and big other organisations).

However, it is possible to see within some of the actions of the EU and its ruling elite (such as leaders Angela Merkel and François Hollande, or EU bureaucrats) a long revered universal ‘brotherhood’ idealism which they are pursing regardless of practicalities and consequences.  Within such idealism there is no recognition of differences in cultures or heritage (and need to safeguard any aspect of Western Civilisation) or need for democratic legitimacy, accountability and transparency; existing Judeo Christian traditions are also undermined, if not attacked to destruction.   Such idealism is impervious to disasters largely or completely caused by its dogmatic blindness, such as the Euro (poor economic growth and high unemployment), uncontrolled (unassimilated) mass migration, Greece (unsustainable debts).  It is also impervious to learning from historical precedent. For example, Continental European philosophy, out of humanism, gave rise to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Man and Superman (Also Sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen) with the superior being, the Übermensch, being the final measure (or decision maker) of all things; thus there are no absolutes of good or evil, or Christian values of love, compassion, pity and humility, just the values of the strong. This justification for superiority or elitism, usually in debased or mutated form, in turn contributed to the destructive ideologies of the twentieth century.

Sadly we will never know what the great composer Beethoven or poet of freedom Schiller would have thought of the EU’s attempt at self-aggrandisement, via his music, and the anthem’s use to further their aims of creating a single, centralised, homogenised and authoritarian EU Superstate with territorial ambitions.  Given their elitist sense of entitlement and increasing control over us individually and our country, Also Sprach Zarathustra by composer Richard Strauss (inspired by Nietzsche’s work of the same name) would be more appropriate.  However, Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, is a dramatic demonstration of higher ideals of freedom (of the ‘little guy’), in the tradition of Schiller, heroism, justice and married fidelity against political tyranny (abuse of power) and ultimately of triumph.  In one scene, leaving the confines of their cells, to breath fresh air there is the Prisoners’ Chorus:

Oh what joy, in the open British air

Freely to breathe again!

Up here alone is life!

The EU dungeon is a grave.


Oh Heaven! Salvation! Happiness!

Oh Freedom! Will you be given us?

Photo by Barbara Müller-Walter

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