13 May 2010


Last month, Angela and I were trapped in Vienna because of the Icelandic volcano eruption the subsequent airport closure. One Tuesday, most museums were closed. In the end, we visited the Secession.

As soon as we entered the Secession Building, we realized that it was under renovation. The only work on display was the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. The painting was created in 1902 for the celebration of Beethoven at the 14th Vienna Secessionist Exhibition. Though we have heard the Symphony No. 9 for countless times, reflecting on the work through a painting was a new and interesting experience.

Without doubt, the most famous part of the Symphony is the adoption of Friedrich Schiller’s An die Freude (Ode to Joy) in the fourth movement. But let’s first follow the painting on the three walls of the building. On the first wall were Floating Genii which were female figures representing the longing for happiness. Next came a kneeling couple, Suffering Humanity, who urged a Knight to fight for happiness.

On the second wall were the Hostile Forces against happiness, including Sickness, Madness, Death, Lasciviousness, Wantonness, Intemperance and Nagging Care.

On the final wall the pursuit for happiness found fulfillment in Arts and Poetry. The Frieze ended with an angel chorus and a kissing couple. This was in agreement with the Finale of the Symphony.

“Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity.”

The Symphony and the Frieze are certainly powerful. On the other hand, fighting for happiness is the hard way. I am glad I can just choose to be joyful.

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