Ode To Joy Was A Protest Song?

I was sitting at my kitchen table this morning munching on my cereal and an English muffin (with strawberry preserves) when my reverie was pierced by the announcer on the local classical music station talking about Ludwig van Beethoven and his political activism for and against Napoleon Bonaparte.  Huh?  Beethoven and political activism; that doesn’t make sense – at all.

So I spent today delving into this oxymoronic justapositioning and to my great surprise I find that not only was Beethoven politically active, one of his signature pieces, “Ode to Joy” (“Ode An Die Freude”) from his 9th Symphony was a protest song!  Apparently it was a plea for universal brotherhood and was written in the context of social change following the French Revolution.  You can find lyrics in English here.

Given this context, “Ode to Joy” becomes even more meaningful today as the oligarchic cloud of  social change looms large on our horizon.

In more recent years, we have become familiar with the use of song to protest social conditions.  From the songs of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to the songs of the folk movement.  There are so many to choose from that it is hard to pick out any one as my favorite.  I will endeavor to post a few in coming days.

To start off with one of my favorites has been “Guantanamera” which is a song that has come to symbolize the peasant struggle against tyranny in Latin America. Although admirably done by so many, my favorite version is by the Sandpipers, especially the ethereal female vocals done by Pamela Ramcier, who was never credited for her contributions.

Ramcier’s voice comes in during the English soliloquy in the song.  The ethereal quality of her voice is haunting; the fact that she has disappeared into the fog of time is perplexing.

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