The Origins of Für Elise
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, Für Elise has joined his Fifth Symphony and Ode to Joy as one of the most famous, recognizable pieces of Classical music in the world. Unlike the Fifth Symphony and Ode to Joy, though, it was not published during his lifetime. Instead, it was discovered and published 40 years after his death! It’s believed that Beethoven completed Für Elise on April 27, 1810, when he was 39 years old. Beethoven, who eventually went completely deaf, could still hear some sounds and voices at this time. The piece’s official name is “Bagatelle Number 25 in A minor,” though it’s best known by its nickname, which literally means “for Elise.” Thus one of the greatest mysteries in music history was born: Who was Elise? There are three reigning theories of who the mysterious “Elise” was:
- One theory is that it wasn’t an “Elise” at all! The name may have been mistranslated and originally been “Therese.” There was a Therese in Beethoven’s life in 1810: Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza was a friend and former student of the composer’s. He fell in love with her and proposed marriage in 1810, but was turned down. She was also the owner of the manuscript at the time of its discovery, making this theory highly likely.
- A second theory is that “Elise” meant the German soprano Elisabeth Rockel, another love interest of Beethoven’s. She, too, turned down his marriage proposal and wound up marrying another composer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, instead.
- A third candidate is another singer named Elise Barensfeld. Therese Malfatti may have been Elise’s piano teacher, and the theory is that Beethoven wrote the relatively easy bagatelle for Therese to teach to Elise. Thus, a favor for Therese wound up being a piece for Elise.
Für Elise Today
Whatever the story, Für Elise is undeniably one of the most popular piano pieces in existence. Fun Fact: Für Elise actually brought Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman together! Before she became Mrs. Hoffman, Kelly went to Joseph for piano lessons, wanting to learn Für Elise. After the third lesson, they decided to date instead. Want to learn how to play this beautiful work yourself? Hoffman Academy has not one, but three different levels of Für Elise! If you’re in the early units (Units 1-4), try the Preparatory Level. If you’re in Units 5-8, try Level One . More advanced? Up for a challenge? We’ve broken the original Für Elise into three parts to help you learn the whole piece!
- The “A” Section (main theme) here (which is also lovely on its own)
- The “B” Section here
- The “C” Section here
Each video contains a “Printables” link for the sheet music. Premium Members can access it right away. If you aren’t quite ready for Premium, you can purchase the sheet music here! Happy practicing!