Beethoven’s Fur Elise; A Must For Pianists}

Beethoven’s Fur Elise; A Must For Pianists


Terje Brooks Ellingsen

When it comes to piano pieces, “Fur Elise” by Beethoven is perhaps one of the most popular and easily recognizable in the world. People who may not know the name of the piece are sure to recognize it once they hear the melody. The Fur Elise melody has permeated our society. In fact, its melody has been used over the years — hundreds of pianists have included it in their repertoire, it is in many classical music compilations, and its melodic strains have been used in many baby toys.

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The official title is Bagatelle in A minor WoO59, though it is known almost exclusively as Fur Elise, which in German translates as “For Elise.” Fur Elise was only a little note of dedication on the manuscript. There is some controversy over who Elise may have been. It is thought that Beethoven wrote this emotional piece sometime around 1810. At that time in his life, Beethoven was hoping to marry Therese Malfatti, who eventually turned him down. There is a theory that whoever transcribed the piece after Beethoven’s death misread the dedication, translating it as “Fur Elise” instead of “Fur Therese.” There are an equal number of scholars who disagree with this theory. Elise may have been an undocumented person in Beethoven’s life, or Elise may have been just a name he scrawled on the manuscript. Unless some kind of documentation is uncovered, we will never know for sure.

No matter who inspired Beethoven to write this memorable piece of music, it has become one of the great musical classics of all time. If we look to the real title, we see that this piece is of the style called a bagatelle, which translates to “a trifle.” A bagatelle is a musical form known for being short, light and mellow. The piece also utilizes the form known as a rondo, which uses a structure of A B A C A, with variations on that theme. As the name tells us, this melody is in the key of A minor, but it is typical of Beethoven’s music. Discordant notes and shifting of the tonal center are woven into the piece, creating not only a lovely melody, but a musical classic that has long outlived its author.

If there is one piece that encapsulates Beethoven’s raw emotions, it would be “Fur Elise.” But did you know that no one heard Fur Elise during the time that Beethoven lived? It wasn’t until Beethoven’s death that this piece was played to an audience.

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Beethoven’s Fur Elise; A Must For Pianists


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