Joy in Sabadell

I may be one of the last denizens of Planet Internet to find out about the viral video known as Som Sabadell flashmob, which was posted last May by the big Spanish bank called Banco (de) Sabadell. It shows a seemingly spontaneous gathering of orchestral musicians, starting with a double-bass player in white tie and tails. He is soon joined by other, more casually dressed musicians and eventually choristers, performing an abbreviated version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (from his 9th Symphony) in the busy main square (Plaça Sant Roc) of Sabadell, the city (north-northwest of Barcelona) where the bank is headquartered. In fact, the bank’s original building (with the lettering BANC DE SABADELL clearly visible) appears as a backdrop for the performance, along with the city hall and the church of Saint Felix.

It appears that the crowd joins in the singing of the Ode, though it’s fairly clear that the soundtrack was professionally recorded and added to the video. Anyway, what they sing is the first three quatrains, in a Catalan translation by the poet Joan Maragall (grandfather of Pasqual Maragall, former President of Catalonia); translating German poetry was a specialty of his. From my point of view as an experienced song translator, it is a superb translation: it maintains the rhyme scheme and meter, as well as the essential meaning, of the original. The only objection might be that the language is the literary Catalan of over a century ago (Maragall died in 1911), quite different from the present-day language. For example, the word joia (joy) is old-fashioned; the modern word would be alegria.

For those who want to sing along with the video, I am enclosing Maragall’s verses, along with a phrase-by-phrase English translation, below. I have marked up the Catalan text as a pronunciation guide, which I explain further down.

Joia, qu(e) ets dels déus guspira

Generada dal(t) del cel:

Ven(t) de foc el pit respira

Sota (e)ls plecs del teu san(t) vel.

Si ajuntar-se’ls cors demanen

Que un mal ven(t) va separan(t),

Tots els homes s’agermanen

On tes ales van tocan(t).

Si fortuna generosa

Ens (h)a dat un bon company

Oh companya graciosa,

Cantarem am(b) més afany.

Joy, spark of the gods,

Engendered above heaven:

The breast breathes wind of fire

Under the folds of your holy veil.

If hearts ask to be joined,

Those that an ill wind separates,

All men become brothers

Where your wings touch.

If generous fortune

Has given us a good companion,

Oh gracious companion,

We will sing with more zeal.


Stressed vowels (marked bold) are as in Italian. In particular, e and o can be either open or closed. The open values are as in pet and pot as pronounced in most of Britain (not North America). The closed values (marked bold italic) are as in mate and mote as pronounced in Scotland, Ireland or the West Indies, not diphthongs as in North America or most of England.

As regards unstressed vowels (unmarked), a (at least in the Barcelona region, as heard in the recording), i and u are essentially the same as stressed. Unstressed e and o are the same as a and u, respectively. In this text there are four instances of the latter (tocant, fortuna, company, companya); in each case the o is read as though written (like the vowel of push). There are almost two dozen unstressed e‘s, all to be pronounced as though written a, that is, like the vowel of cut as spoken in North America or southern England.

Consonants: c, g, j and s are as in French; b, v, and r are as in Spanish;  l is as in English; and ny is like Spanish ñ. Silent letters are in parentheses.

Sing with joy!


6 Responses to “Joy in Sabadell”

  1. Marek Wojcik Says:

    Dear Professor Lubliner,
    This European Union anthem makes other than linguistic association in my mind. Future of EU is not clear and these people singing this anthem in their national language may be considered as a vote for EU. Would be good to see other nations singing “Ode to Joy” in this intention.

    Thank you very much for this reflection. You were silent for a very long time. Please consider more frequent comments, they are very interesting.

    Happy 2013 Year,
    Marek Wojcik

  2. Angel Says:

    Here´s a sample of Coby´s song translator skills:

  3. Angel Says:

    Sorry wrong link:

  4. Cynthia in California Says:

    Merci, gracias, danke, dank U wel, and thank you for the presentation of these lyrics in Catalan. I saw the “Som Sabadell” flashmob and related to the singing as an affirmation of the survival of Catalan despite the oppression under Franco and before.

    This language has survived horrible cultural suppression and seeing it sung with such verve, in public, with passers-by (man with child on shoulders, older man) participating, was soul-stirring.

    What more is there to say?

  5. andr3vv Says:

    Somewhere, I read that the recording is actually from the site on the day of…that the sound of kids or the crowd was part of the original recording, however, mastered and engineered out (for the most part). It’s also why the chorus is slightly muddy.

  6. Jak Tichenor Says:

    Dear Coby,
    Thank you so very much for your translation and accompanying notes on the Banco Sabadell flashmob from Catalan. Your good work has added immeasurably to my enjoyment of this wonderful and uplifting musical performance and video production.

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