I just completed work on my new orchestral setting of the classic hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. As I contemplated how to best arrange this piece for church orchestra, I could think of nothing more joyous than Beethoven’s original musical setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy. And so I enthusiastically embarked on a thorough analysis of the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Having previously studied some of Beethoven’s other orchestral works, I am always amazed at the modest elegance of Beethoven’s orchestrations. Those of us who fancy ourselves as orchestral composers could learn a great deal about how to more effectively compose for orchestra if we could better comprehend how Beethoven is able to achieve so much with such seemingly simple elements. And yet one cannot describe his music as “simplistic” since, even in our modern era, it continues to provide such a satisfying challenge for performers and a satisfying aesthetic experience for listeners.
Historians tell us that Beethoven greatly agonized over his scores. Unlike Mozart, whose scores seemed to be completely realized in their initial draft, Beethoven often scratched out or even discarded scores that he deemed unsatisfactory. I suspect that I would be thoroughly satisfied to achieve the musical proficiency of one of Beethoven’s discarded scores. However, Beethoven’s quality control efforts certainly paid off. Whenever I examine one of his scores, I am always amazed at how every note seems to be perfectly chosen and flawlessly positioned.
And so it is with much humility, and high regard for this compositional master, that I offer my new setting of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. I hope that it will be a way for new generations of performers and listeners to be inspired by the beauty of Beethoven’s God-given genius. As Beethoven once said, “I despise a world which does not feel that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”