The concept that Europe should have its own national anthem might seem strange bearing in mind that Europe is a continent rather than a country. However, while idea may seem strange, there is in fact a European anthem, it’s just the ‘national bit that’s uncertain’.
And chances are that you already know this anthem too – it’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (or ‘Ode an die Freude’ in German) – which is used as the anthem for the union and for the council of Europe. The score comes from the last movement in Beethoven’s 9th symphony which was originally composed in 1823 and today is used at a range of occasions and ceremonies.
Initially the suggestion was made by Count Richard Nikolaus von Coudenhove-Kalergi to use the prelude of Ode to Joy as a European anthem. It was believed that Beethoven was at the forefront of Europe’s ‘early Romanticist universalist pretentions’ and this made him a good fit for the anthem. It was then in 1972 (actually sixteen years later) that the Union would officially announce the anthem and that conductor Herbert von Karajan was tasked with writing three instrumental arrangements for the official recording. This was then followed by a major campaign on Europe Day that year. The idea of the anthem is not to replace the individual anthems of each member state, but rather to represent their diversity and unity and to express ideals of freedom and peace. Partly as a result of this international flavour, the anthem is purely instrumental rather than having lyrics in any one language – though the German lyrics will often be sung by choirs when it is performed and there are various translations used in each language.
Some of the lyrics in English are:
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us Sing more,
Cheerful and more joyful ones,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach fire-drunk,
Heavenly One, your shrine,
Your magic reunites