Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee


Text: Origins. The text of this hymn is by Presbyterian minister Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933). At the time of the hymn’s composition, Van Dyke was professor of English literature at Princeton University. One surviving manuscript copy of the hymn is preserved in the Louis F. Benson Manuscript Collection, Princeton Theological Seminary (Fig. 1). The handwritten hymn had been sent to Louis Benson, apparently for consideration in the forthcoming Presbyterian hymnal (see Fig. 3 below). The penciled date of 27 November 1907 at the bottom of the second page is probably by Benson or someone on his staff.

Fig. 1. Louis F. Benson Manuscript Collection, Princeton Theological Seminary.

Some notable lines in this early manuscript are in the fourth stanza, especially, “Blend your voices in the chorus / Millions of the mortal clan,” and “Out of darkness, out of strife.”

In a follow-up letter written by Van Dyke to Benson, 4 December 1907, Van Dyke said, “I am glad that you like the ‘Hymn of Joy.’ It was written with the music steadily in mind, and whatever merit it contains is due to Beethoven’s soaring and uplifting melody. … Of course you will let me see the proof of the ‘Hymn of Joy,’ and you will also suggest any changes which seem to you desirable.”

In another letter from Van Dyke to Benson, 20 October 1910, Van Dyke wrote, “Thank you for your good letter—too short! Your suggestion is very helpful. See the first four lines of the last stanza on the back of this letter.” On the back of the letter is Van Dyke’s significant change to the beginning of stanza 4: “Mortals join the mighty chorus,” etc. (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Louis F. Benson Manuscript Collection, Princeton Theological Seminary.

“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee” was published in The Poems of Henry Van Dyke (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911 | Fig. 3) in four stanzas of eight lines, dated 1908, titled “Hymn of Joy, to the music of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.” This published copy departs from Van Dyke’s manuscript in a few ways, as in “Praising Thee their sun above” (st. 1) and “Blooming meadow” (st. 2).

Fig. 3. The Poems of Henry Van Dyke (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911).

That same year, Van Dyke’s text and Beethoven’s tune were published together in The Hymnal (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1911 | Fig. 4), using Van Dykes manuscript version of stanzas 1-3, incorporating his new lines sent in 1910, and incorporating the line “Victors in the midst of strife.” This copy is dated 1907. This version, rather than the Poems version, has become the standard text for hymnals.


Fig. 4. The Hymnal (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1911).


Van Dyke’s son, Tertius Van Dyke (1886–1958), once offered this explanation for the genesis of his father’s hymn:

Just before a service in the Williams College Chapel, President Garfield told me how the hymn came to be written. My father was staying in the Garfields’ home. One morning when he came down to breakfast he put the manuscript of the hymn on the table, saying: “Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethoven’s ‘Hymn to Joy.’” And then Doctor Garfield turning to the tune in the hymn book added: “Here it is in our Chapel book. You see it is really a Williams College hymn.”[1]

Tertius’ story has been a source of consternation for researchers, as Harry A. Garfield had been elected president of Williams College on 25 June 1907 but did not move from Princeton, New Jersey, to Williamstown, Massachusetts, until after the retirement of Williams College president Henry Hopkins in June 1908. Van Dyke and Garfield had been colleagues at Princeton. Garfield was acting president of Williams College over the summer of 1908 and was fully inaugurated on 7 October 1908.[2] This story seems to undermine Van Dyke’s letter of 1907, in which he said Beethoven was his source of inspiration. If there is any kernel of truth in the story it would be in Van Dyke’s visiting Garfield at some point in 1908 or 1909 before or after Van Dyke’s lectures in Paris, gifting Garfield a handwritten copy of his hymn. Van Dyke left for Paris in the early summer of 1908 and did not return until September of 1909.[3]

Text: Analysis. Tertius Van Dyke, in addition to providing the story behind his father’s hymn, also provided this assessment of the text:

My father’s hymn, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” written to the music of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, is a vital and happy expression of the cheerful note that is the heart of the Christian religion. It begins, as Christianity itself began, in a whole-souled and hearty yes to life as Jesus lived it in God. It is the natural paean that leaps to the lips of a man who receives his life at God’s hands and purposes to live that life in Christ’s law of liberty.

It would be a pity to attempt to analyze this hymn, and I do not intend to commit that particular error. … I may, however, permit myself to make one observation on this hymn with a view to aiding us in the appreciation of its message. It is this—that the hymn celebrates a joy to be found in nature by the man who finds his first joy in living his own life in Jesus Christ. Anyone who is familiar with my father’s poetry and preaching will at once recognize that the harmony of this double note is his most characteristic accent. How often he declares that Christianity is an out-of-doors religion! How steadily he stresses the joyfulness of a life that rests upon Christ! If a man is a Christian in this simple sense of personal faith and activity, let him step out into the open air and rejoice:

“For the long breath, the deep breath, the breath of a heart without care—
I will give thanks and adore thee, God of the open air!”[4]

The opening lines of the hymn appeal to the worshiper to praise the Lord with joy. Our model for this attitude of worship comes in great part from the Psalms: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Ps. 32:11); “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth” (Ps. 98:4, ESV); “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you” (Ps. 71:23). Van Dyke compares the act of worship to flowers opening toward the sun; God is compared to the sun in Malachi 4:2, “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” The Bible is rich with expressions of light overcoming darkness, such as 2 Samuel 22:29, “For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness.”

The second stanza depicts every part of creation offering praise back to its creator. Psalm 148 has a similar stance, calling on the sun and moon, the stars, the creatures of the sea, the elements of weather, mountains, trees, birds and animals, kings and princes, men and women, young and old, to worship the Lord. The third stanza enumerates some character attributes of God, as one who gives (Matthew 7:11) and forgives (Psalm 103:12) and is a well-spring of life (John 4:14). It refers to Christ as our brother (Matthew 12:46-50). The phrase “All who live in love are Thine” might at first glance appear to be a form of universalism, except this idea is expressed in 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” In the fourth stanza, the allusion to “morning stars” is from Job 38:7. Finally, the hymn declares its singers to be victors (1 Cor. 15:57) who are marching to triumph (2 Cor. 2:14).

The hymn is frequently altered, especially to reduce the masculine language of the fourth stanza. The third stanza is often omitted entirely or is altered in such a way as to not give the appearance of universalism, in spite of the clear biblical precedent.

Tune. Van Dyke’s preferred tune, the one to which this text is almost always set, is the main theme from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Mvt. 4, originally set to a poem by Friedrich Schiller. Beethoven completed his final symphony in early 1824, and the piece was premiered in Vienna on 7 May 1824. The score was first published as Sinfonie mit Schluss-Chor über Schillers Ode: “An die Freude” für grosses Orchester, 4 Solo- und 4 Chor-Stimmen (Mainz: B. Schotts Söhnen, 1826 | Fig. 4) [“Symphony with final chorus on Schiller’s ode ‘To the joy,’ for large orchestra, 4 solo and 4 choral voices”]. Beethoven’s handwritten manuscript is held at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, available digitally on their website (here). This choral-symphonic masterpiece—the first symphony to feature a choir—has enjoyed enormous popularity in the 200 years since its inception, especially this final movement.

Fig. 4. Sinfonie mit Schluss-Chor über Schillers Ode: “An die Freude” für grosses Orchester, 4 Solo- und 4 Chor-Stimmen (Mainz: B. Schotts Söhnen, 1826).


Beethoven’s melody was first adapted as a hymn tune in The Mozart Collection of Sacred Music (NY: Paine & Burgess, 1846 | Figs. 5a-c), edited by Elam Ives Jr. (1802–1862). In this collection, the tune appeared three times under the name BONN (the place where Beethoven was born). In the first instance, the music was adapted to suit a text of, “Head of the church triumphant,” by Charles Wesley, taken by Ives from one of multiple editions of A Collection of Psalms and Hymns produced for the benefit of the Lock Hospital in London. To accommodate Wesley’s iambic meter, Ives added a pickup note to every phrase, a great disservice to Beethoven’s tune.

Fig. 5a. E. Ives, The Mozart Collection of Sacred Music (NY: Paine & Burgess, 1846). Melody in the soprano part.

In the second instance, Ives adapted the tune to fit a text of, “Sing hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” by John Swertner (1746–1813), from A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the Protestant Church of the United Brethren (1789, “The Moravian Collection”). Like the first example, Ives added pickup notes to suit an iambic text.

Fig. 5b. E. Ives, The Mozart Collection of Sacred Music (NY: Paine & Burgess, 1846). Melody in the soprano part.

The third version is fitted for, set to “Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings” by Robert Seagrave, here misattributed to John Cennick. Seagrave’s text, being mostly trochaic, is a much better fit for Beethoven’s tune, and this is the most successful of Ives’ adaptations. In this version Ives included the anticipatory accent before the final phrase, a feature often lost in hymnal settings.

Fig. 5c. E. Ives, The Mozart Collection of Sacred Music (NY: Paine & Burgess, 1846). Melody in the soprano part.


Another important arrangement often cited by hymnologists and repeated in other collections is the version by Edward Hodges (1796–1867), organist of Trinity Church, New York, as in The Trinity Collection of Church Music (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1864 | Figs. 6a-b). Hodges, like Ives before him, somehow managed to arrange Beethoven’s tune without supplying a version in the original meter ( Hodges created two versions named JOY, both trochaic. The first (Fig. 6a) was adapted to fit, set to Seagraves’ text, seemingly taking its cue from Ives’ third version (Fig. 5c), except Hodges avoided the anticipatory accent of the final phrase.

Fig. 6a. The Trinity Collection of Church Music (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1864).

Hodges’ second version, adapted for, set to “Since I’ve known a Saviour’s name” by Charles Wesley, is practically identical to the first, except the extra syllable in the sixth phrase displaces the melisma at the end of the fifth phrase.

Fig. 6b. The Trinity Collection of Church Music (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1864).

Lutheran hymnologist and church musician Paul Westermeyer has described the issue at stake in keeping or losing the final anticipatory accent in the melody:

We have usually … received this tune in hymnals with the last line squared up on the beat and the syncopation removed. This modification drains the tune of its life. Congregations not only can handle rhythms like this, but delight in them. Squaring up the tune treats congregations badly and assumes there is an arbitrary, nonmusical (monotonous) congregational template, rather than music in its integrity that sings. Though some recent hymnals have restored Beethoven’s rhythm, once the altered version is in a congregation’s memory bank, to change it or not is a difficult pastoral issue.[5]

for Hymnology Archive
24 June 2019


  1. Tertius Van Dyke, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” The Music of the Gospel, ed. Stanley Armstrong Hunter (NY: Abingdon Press, 1932), p. 25.

  2. John David Peterson, “Hymn to joy: Schiller, Beethoven, & Van Dyke,” The Hymn, vol. 48, no. 2 (April 1997), p. 18.

  3. Tertius Van Dyke, Henry Van Dyke: A Biography (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1935), p. 240: “The summers of 1908 and 1909 he spent with his family abroad delivering in the winter his lectures on The Spirit of America at The Sarbonne [The University of Paris].” See also pp. 292-297.

  4. Tertius Van Dyke, pp. 24-25, quoting Henry Van Dyke’s poem “God of the open air.”

  5. Paul Westermeyer, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), p. 720.

Related Resources:

Tertius Van Dyke, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” The Music of the Gospel, ed. Stanley Armstrong Hunter (NY: Abingdon Press, 1932), pp. 21-27.

Walter C. Covert & Calvin W. Laufer, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” Handbook to the Hymnal (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1936), pp. 6-9.

Harry Eskew, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), p. 176.

John David Peterson, “Hymn to Joy: Schiller, Beethoven, and Van Dyke,” The Hymn, vol. 48, no. 2 (April 1997), pp. 12-19.

Paul Westermeyer, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), pp. 718-720.

Robert Cottrill, “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,” Wordwise Hymns (21 March 2011):

Carl P. Daw Jr. “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” “HYMN TO JOY,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 251-252, 582-583.

“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,”

“Sinfonie Nr. 9, d-Moll, op. 125,” Beethoven Digital, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: