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Beethoven for the new Europe

May 18, 2003|Louise Roug

German poet Friedrich Schiller just won't do.

The president of Eurochambres, an organization of European chambers of commerce, has proposed writing new lyrics for the European Union anthem, the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The Enlightenment exuberance of "Ode to Joy"("An die Freude"), which Beethoven set to music for the final chorus of the symphony, may have sparks of divinity, but it just isn't Euro enough.

After suggesting, on Austrian radio last year, that the lyrics need to express not just the brotherhood of man but also of Europeans, Christoph Leitl, who heads Eurochambres, received several submissions.

One begins: "Ich will fur EUROPA leben, und achte die volkerverbindenden Ideen, es soll nur mehr Freunde geben, die sich vertragen und verstehen."

In translation, writes Leitl's aptly named secretary, Tosca Purr: "I want to live for Europe, and respect the ideas that link nations; there should be only friends in future which get along with each other very well."

Try fitting that to the music.

Whether the proposed lyrics would be translated to the languages of all the member states is unclear.

An arrangement of "Ode to Joy" was adopted as the European anthem in 1972. It is played at official ceremonies but, like the other official EU symbol -- the flag of 12 stars on a blue background -- has a "total lack of resonance" with the people of Europe, said Mark Leonard, director of the influential London think tank the Foreign Policy Centre.

Leonard, who happens to like both Beethoven's music and the existing lyrics quite a bit ("Spectacular!"), believes the last thing the EU needs is a new national anthem.

"A collection of 'Eurocrats' rewriting it by committee will just make things worse," Leonard says. Besides, "the only time you hear the anthem is during the Ryder Cup."

-- Louise Roug

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