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While listening to Beethoven's 9th symphony 4th movement I noticed that "Elysium" sounds more like "Eliesium", and "Brüder" sounds similar to "Brieder" (example on Youtube). Moreover, even if we just look at the lyrics, we'll find that "wieder" is supposed to rhyme with "Brüder":

Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

So were these sounds so close to be almost indistinguishable at the beginning of XIX century? Are they still considered somehow interchangeable in pronunciation?

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    I'm not sure whether linking an example recording that was conducted by a British orchestra and British singers as an example of German pronunciation makes a lot of sense. I'd propose you look for an example conducted by native speakers. OTOH, the pronunciation of Elysium sounds good to me as close to "Elüsium". I can't hear what you're hearing, apparently. – tofro Sep 22 '17 at 11:24
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Schiller (who wrote the Ode to Joy), being from Swabia, would probably actually have pronounced the y in Elysium and the ü in Brüder as /i/, so in his native dialect it would have been a clean rhyme. However, even speakers of (reasonably) Standard German usually consider i and ü (and e and ö and ei and eu) as close enough to be somewhat rhyming.

Source: Wikipedia

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  • I'm pretty sure Schiller would have known how to properly pronounce "Elysium" - He probably just didn't care for a 100% rhyme. I do agree with the "Brüder", though. The "Höhn" and "stehn" rhyme in "Die Glocke" is a sloppy rhyme as well which cannot be blamed on his dialect. – tofro Sep 22 '17 at 17:32
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    @tofro: Nope, Schiller, Goethe and other people from that time were not sloppy rhymers. They just used a very different pronunciation of standard German than the Northern one that is common nowadays. Common pronunciations at the time – Saxonian was considered to be the best pronunciation, and Meissen was similarly reknown for its pronunciation as Hannover is today – did not have Ü or Ö, but used I and E instead. – mach Sep 22 '17 at 17:42
  • @mach I grew up with the same dialect as Schiller did, and pronunciation hasn't likely changed fundamentally since then. And no, "Höhn" and stehn" I would still consider a sloppy rhyme, even in dialect. Later Hölderlin (contemporary to Schiller, sharing the same dialect) poems are known to contain very few impure rhymes. I am pretty sure Schiller used (at least some of) them on purpose. – tofro Sep 22 '17 at 17:48
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    @tofro: Since the pronunciation is identical, it is a pure end rhyme by definition. But spelling might influence rhymes, or acquaintance with people who use Ü and Ö (at the time basically limited to Northern Germany and Switzerland). – mach Sep 22 '17 at 19:23
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    Honestly it depends on the poet. Goethe's case is pretty much determined by rhyming neige abd -reiche (also in the Wikipedia link) - he was content if it rhymed in his native dialect. I have no idea whether Schiller would rhyme according to whatever was considered Standard phonology at the time, but if I'm not completely mistaken, there was no consensus what should count as standard at the time anyways, and we can be pretty sure that Schiller would have sounded more like a Swabian reading his own poets than Swabian schoolchildren would now. – sgf Sep 22 '17 at 19:43

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