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'Ode to Joy' rings out during the coronavirus crisis

Anastassia Boutsko
March 24, 2020

In Italy, people have been singing and playing music from windows and balconies since the outbreak began. Now the Germans are following suit, with a famous tune by Beethoven.

Sticker Bright spot - Lichtblicke | ENG | Coronavirus | Musik, Solidarität
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. pleul

In recent days, the normally bustling Pauliplatz in Cologne has become quiet — no children playing, hardly any cars and only a few pedestrians. Even the birds seem to be in quarantine. But at 6 p.m. sharp on Sunday, several windows opened.

The notes of a horn could be heard, then a flute, followed by a clarinet. A violin and a double bass began to play on the other side of the square. Not quite a full orchestra, but certainly close. Those who didn't play an instrument simply sang along to the melody of the finale to Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, set to a poem by Friedrich Schiller. "Nobody expects a perfect musical event! Being there is everything" was the motto of the "Musicians for Germany" campaign initiated by various German music associations.

Call to action saying "Musicians for Germany – on Sunday, 22 March 2020, at 6:00 p.m. on the dot, all musicians play out of their windows". Below that: a score with the melody to the Ode to Joy
The call to action was made on social media and the notes to the music were distributed to thousands of recipientsImage: privat

Music resounds around Germany

As in Cologne, music was made across Germany on Sunday evening for the special occasion. In Stuttgart, musicians of the city orchestra took part in the activity, as did others in Freiburg, where members of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra were cheered on by people in the surrounding houses after a brief performance in a back yard.

Read more: Culture goes digital amid the coronavirus crisis

In Berlin, singers from the Berlin State Opera turned their balconies into stages. "When opera performances and concerts with a live audience are not possible, we have to resort to other means," said Stuttgart's General Music Director Cornelius Meister. Numerous musical performances were filmed nationwide and shared on the internet over the weekend.

Music to counter COVID-19

Long before the coronavirus crisis it was known that music can be an effective remedy against loneliness and dampened spirits. But, in Italy, hit particularly hard by the pandemic in recent weeks, a new era of public music making has begun. The nationwide event "Flash mob sonoro" (Sound Flash Mob) invites musicians and music lovers, professional or not, to perform together.  

Now Germany is following suit: The campaign "Musicians for Germany," initiated by various German music associations, was supported by thousands of professionals and amateurs around the nation.

Read more: 12 films to slow down with

A call went out on social media networks for a musical flash mob to take place. Word quickly spread, with many downloading the musical scores the organization provided. People sang and played music at their windows, from balconies and even in abandoned museums, creating a sense of community in times of increasing isolation.

Visit the Beethoven House in Bonn

Why Beethoven?

The choice of the musical piece to be performed is symbolic. Beethoven's and Schiller's call for brotherhood and solidarity is the anthem of the European Union and more relevant now than ever. "It's a great idea to follow the example of the Italians and play the Ode to Joy together," said Malte Boecker, director of the Beethoven House in Bonn and artistic director of the Beethoven Anniversary Society. "With creativity, culture is now breaking new ground."

Read more: Culture in the time of corona

Music was also played in the Beethoven House on Sunday. Peter Materna, director of the Jazzfest Bonn, played the saxophone while employees sang from various rooms and office windows.

Indeed, Beethoven brings people together again, even if the song's famous lyric "Be embraced, millions" cannot happen in person at the moment.

Beethoven year kicks off in Bonn

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