Schiller, author of the Ode to Joy

Friedrich Schiller was a poet, playwright and philosopher. Along with Goethe, he is considered Germany's most important writer.

Santiago Leyra Curiá-October 26, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Image: Schiller. ©Wikipedia Commons

"Juan Cristóbal Federico Schiller (1759-1805) says in one of his letters to Goethe: Christianity is the manifestation of moral beauty, the incarnation of the holy and sacred in human nature, the only truly aesthetic religion. Menéndez Pelayo says that Schiller showed himself to be a Christian at every step by feeling and imagination" ("Historia de las ideas estéticas en España", T. IV, p. 53, Santander 1940).

Menéndez Pelayo quotes from Schiller these words: "Live with your century (he says to the artist), but do not be its workmanship; work for your contemporaries, but do what they need, not what they praise. Do not venture into the dangerous company of the real, before you have secured in your own heart a circle of ideal nature. Go to the heart of your fellow men: do not directly combat their maxims, do not condemn their actions; but banish from their pleasures the capricious, the frivolous, the brutal, and thus you will insensibly banish them from their acts, and, finally, from their sentiments. Multiply around them the great, noble, ingenious forms, the symbols of the perfect, until appearance triumphs over reality, and art dominates nature".

His father, Juan Gaspar (1723-96), was a tireless worker, deeply religious and optimistic. His mother, Isabel Dorotea (1732-1802), daughter of an innkeeper and tahonero.

Schiller's first instruction he received from the parish priest of Loch, Moser, to whom the poet dedicated a remembrance in "The Bandits". From 1766 to 1773, he studied at the Latin school in Ludwigsburg. In 1773 he entered the military training school in Solitüde, transferred to Stuttgart in 1775 as the military academy of the duchy.

Schiller initially wanted to study theology, but gave it up after entering the Academy and opted for law, later embracing medicine.

The first inclination to poetry was born in Schiller with the reading of Klopstock's Messiah. He was also influenced by Klinger's dramas and Goethe's Gotz. But he was more influenced by Plutarch and J.J. Rousseau.

Initially a friend of the French Revolution, he left it with honor after the execution of Louis XVI. On August 23, 1794 he addressed a letter to Goethe in which he revealed great knowledge in matters of art and in September he visited him in his house.

On May 9, 1805, between five and six o'clock in the afternoon, a placid death put an end to the poet's life before he reached the age of 46. In 1826 Goethe wrote the poem "Im ernsten Beinhares war's wo ich erschante", testimony to the good memory he had of the noble friend.

The most outstanding feature of Schiller's spirit is the idealism of his conception of the world. "Everything is immoderate, enormous and monstrous" in his early works such as "The Thieves" and "Kabbalah and Love": idealism rules at ease (Menéndez y Pelayo). It is true literature of "assault and irruption" ("Storm und Drang"), as they call it in Germany (Menéndez y Pelayo).

Subsequently "Goethe gave Schiller the serenity and objectivity he lacked." "What a series of masterpieces illustrated this last period of Schiller's life (1798 to 1805): Wallenstein, Mary Stuart, Joan of Arc, The Bride of Messina, William Tell (1804), the Song of the Bell."

"Guillermo Tell is a work totally harmonious and preferred by many to the rest of the poet's works... in which there is a perfect harmony between action and landscape, a no less perfect interpenetration of the individual drama and the drama that we could call epic or of transcendental interest, and a torrent of lyrical poetry, as fresh, transparent and clean as the water that flows from the same wild peaks.

The Bell would be the first lyric poetry of the nineteenth century if it had not been written in the penultimate year of the eighteenth century and did not bear the spirit of that era, although in its most ideal and noble part, all the poetry of human life is condensed in those verses of such metallic sound, of such prodigious and flexible rhythm. Whoever wants to know the value of poetry as a civilizing work, should read Schiller's Campana (Menéndez y Pelayo).

Schiller is the poet of moral idealism, of which Kant was the philosopher... The Kantian imperative... is transformed by Schiller's spirit into immense tenderness and pity, into universal charity, which neither diminish nor weaken, but rather enhance the heroic temper of the soul, mistress of itself, obedient to the dictates of the moral law... to emerge triumphant from every conflict of passion".

In November 1785, Schiller composed The Ode to Joy ("An die Freude", in German), a lyrical poetic composition first published in 1786.

According to a 19th century legend, the ode was originally intended to be an "Ode an die Freiheit" (ode to freedom sung in the revolutionary period by students to the music of La Marseillaise), but then became the "Ode an die Freude"In short, to broaden its meaning: although freedom is fundamental, it is not an end in itself but only a means to happiness, which is the source of joy.

In 1793, when he was 23 years old, Ludwig van Beethoven knew the work and immediately wanted to set the text to music, thus giving rise to the idea that would become over the years his ninth and last symphony in D minor, Op. 125, whose final movement is for chorus and soloists on the final version of the "Ode to Joy." by Schiller. This piece of music has become the European Anthem.

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