On May 7, 1824, at the prestigious Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna, a nearly deaf Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) premiered his latest work—Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125, commonly referred to as the Ninth Symphony. This grand event marked the German composer’s first on-stage appearance in a dozen years; a triumph for what had turned out to be—although unbeknownst to Beethoven at that time—one of the most famous works in the history of classical music.
Today, the hymn he called Ode to Joy—the Ninth’s final movement written for a chorus and four solo voices—remains not only widely popular around the world, but is also figuring prominently in a 21st-century social phenomenon—the flash mob.
A new documentary entitled Following the Ninth explores the widespread influence the nearly 200-year-old symphony exerts to this day; from Europe to Asia and beyond, rousing and stirring renditions of Ode to Joy, performed on street corners, in malls, train stations, and other public places, inspire and touch people of different nationalities, cultures, and beliefs. This flash mob in Spain is a typical example of the Ninth’s enduring impact and popularity.
For instance, this piece, which was added to the United Nations World Heritage List in 2002, has been performed to mark important occasions such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1999; it was also adopted as the official anthem of the European Union. On a lighter note, in Japan, the Ode is a favorite piece of music during the holiday season, performed all over the country throughout December.
Interestingly, in Beethoven’s time, only well-off people attended concerts, so the lower classes most likely had not heard the symphony until decades later. Today, with the Ninth-inspired flash mob craze, everyone has an opportunity to hear this masterpiece—and that goes to prove that a thing of beauty really is a joy forever.