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An anthem for Europe: Comparing historical appropriations of Beethoven's Ode to Joy


  • Dominic Tscherny

Summary, in English

Since its composition two centuries ago in 1824, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy) has been heralded the world over not only as a great work of art, but also as a symbol of political importance. In Germany, it was lionised as the embodiment of a national spirit, first during the Franco-Prussian war, then as a prize of the Nazi repertoire; in Rhodesia, it became the national anthem of a far-right white ethno-state, while on the far-left, it occupied a rare position of Western revolutionary music in China. Today, the piece stands for the official anthem of the European Union. But, fascinating as this meandering story is, it also raises an important question: How did one static object come to represent actors on every edge of the political spectrum? Furthermore, does the complex history of this symphony affect its role as a symbol of contemporary European integration? This thesis answers these questions in a comparative historical analysis, which looks at three cases from Europe (as well as two from beyond the continent) where the Ninth Symphony has been appropriated for political ends. With the aid of Karlsson’s typology of the ‘ideological use of history’ and Žižek’s theory of ‘ideology as an empty container’, the analysis establishes the important role that the Ninth Symphony played in spreading political ideas. I showcase how nineteenth century German nationalism, Nazism, and European Unity each invoked the Ode to Joy as a symbol of their ideological framework. I contend that this has been possible due to the grand but vague messages that each ideology has attached to the symphony’s original call of universal brotherhood. Finally, I also consider whether the tumultuous history of the Ninth inhibits its ability to symbolise Europe today, but ultimately conclude that the concession of lyrics which transfigures the anthem into a purely musical work salvages its ability to stand for a diverse continent today.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
  • political appropriation of music
  • Žižek’s empty container
  • historical narrative
  • political symbolism
  • European Studies


  • Mattias Nowak