This is the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth and last Symphony. The German composer was increasingly aware of his declining health and spent seven years working on this symphony, starting the work in 1818 and finishing early in 1824. The symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire and is considered one of Beethoven's masterpieces.
At the time it was a novel idea to use a chorus and solo voices in a symphony, which is why it's also called the "Choral" symphony. Beethoven, in fact, had serious misgivings about portraying the music's message with actual words. Even after the premiere, he apparently came very close to replacing all the vocal lines with instrumental ones.
The words, which are sung by four vocal soloists and a chorus, emanate a strong belief in mankind. They were taken from a poem written by German writer Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by Beethoven.
The Ninth Symphony was premiered on May 7, 1824 in the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. There had been only two full rehearsals and the performance was rather scrappy. Despite this, the premiere was deemed a great success.
Beethoven was completely deaf when he embarked on this masterpiece, and it's a tragedy that he never heard a single note of it except inside his head. At the end of the symphony's first performance the German composer, who had been directing the piece and was consequently facing the orchestra, had to be turned around by the contralto Caroline Unger so that he could see the audience's ecstatic reaction. Beethoven had been unaware of the tumultuous roars of applause behind him.
This is the most requested piece of music on the BBC Radio show, Desert Island Discs, which has been broadcast since 1942. Over 60 guests have chosen this tune.
The Council of Europe and subsequently the European Union chose "Ode to Joy" as National Anthem of Europe.
The piece was used in the 1988 film Die Hard, when the crooks crack the safe and get the money.
Michael Jackson's 1993 single "Will You Be There," starts with an excerpt from a lesser known portion of the symphony's final movement.
At the reopening of the Festival Hall in London, English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg was commissioned to write an English lyric for this piece. Bragg was introduced to the Queen at the opening ceremony and told her that when he started out "I wanted to be the new Bob Dylan, but I ended up being the new Friedrich Schiller."