But the title of this piece immediately begs the question: who’s Elise?! Well, there are several theories….
Most likely, Elise was Therese Malfatti, whom Beethoven proposed to the same year he wrote the piece (1810). Indeed, the manuscript originally bore the title “Für Therese.” But when a copywriter named Ludwig Nohl published the piece 40 years after Beethoven’s death, it was noted as “Für Elise.”
So, perhaps the dedication to “Elise” was a mistake (poor Therese!). But other theories about Elise’s identity exist. She may have been Elisabeth Röckel, a soprano who performed in Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio.
Another possible Elise is Elise Barensfeld, a piano student of Therese Malfatti. Beethoven may have written the relatively simple piece for her as a favor to Therese.
“Für Elise” was written in 1810, two years before Beethoven went fully deaf in 1812. But his hearing was already limited by the time the piece was written.
Beethoven’s music got higher in pitch as his deafness progressed. Which may explain why “Für Elise” is a relatively high piece — especially the triplet A Minor arpeggios shortly after the middle section.
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This piece was written during Beethoven’s Late Period, a time in his career when he was moving away from classical traditions and towards something more expressive and emotional, ushering in the Romantic period of classical music.
The piece has a yearning, chromatic and meandering theme which reaches up in a series of E octaves. Is this an expression of unrequited love? While we can’t answer for Beethoven, it’s one way to interpret the piece!
While “Für Elise” isn’t for absolute beginners, it is doable for intermediate-level players. We also have a simpler arrangement and some tips available here.
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