Für Elise

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Für Elise
Piano music by Ludwig van Beethoven
First edition, 1867
KeyA minor
Composed27 April 1810 (1810-04-27)
Published1867 (1867)

Bagatelle No. 25[a] in A minor (WoO 59, Bia 515) for solo piano, commonly known as "Für Elise" (German: [fyːɐ̯ ʔeˈliːzə], transl. For Elise), is one of Ludwig van Beethoven's most popular compositions.[1][2][3] It was not published during his lifetime, only being discovered (by Ludwig Nohl) 40 years after his death, and may be termed either a Bagatelle or an Albumblatt. The identity of "Elise" is unknown; researchers have suggested Therese Malfatti, Elisabeth Röckel, or Elise Barensfeld.


The score was not published until 1867, forty years after the composer's death in 1827. The discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, affirmed that the original autograph manuscript, now lost, had the title: "Für Elise am 27 April [1810] zur Erinnerung von L. v. Bthvn" ("For Elise on April 27 in memory by L. v. Bthvn").[4] The music was published as part of Nohl's Neue Briefe Beethovens (New letters by Beethoven) on pages 28 to 33, printed in Stuttgart by Johann Friedrich Cotta.[5]

The version of "Für Elise" heard today is an earlier version that was transcribed by Ludwig Nohl. There is a later revised version from 1822, with drastic changes to the accompaniment which was transcribed from a manuscript by the Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper. The most notable difference is in the first theme, the left-hand arpeggios are delayed by a 16th note. There are a few extra bars in the transitional section into the B section; and finally, the rising A minor arpeggio figure is moved later into the piece. The tempo marking Poco moto is believed to have been on the manuscript that Ludwig Nohl transcribed (now lost). The later version includes the marking Molto grazioso. It is believed that Beethoven intended to add the piece to a cycle of bagatelles.[6]

Whatever the validity of Nohl's edition, an editorial peculiarity contained in it involves whether the second right-hand note in bar 7, that is, the first note of the three-note upbeat figure that characterizes the main melody, is an E4 or a D4. Nohl's score gives E4 in bar 7, but D4 thereafter in all parallel passages. Many editions change all the figures to beginning with E4 until the final bars, where D4 is used and resolved by adding a C to the final A octave. However, the use of the note D4 in bar 7 can be traced back to a draft Beethoven wrote for the piece that is today housed in the Beethoven-Haus Bonn.[7] Another point in favor of the D4 is that the ascending seventh of the motive in this form is repeated in sequence in bars 9 to 11 that begin the second section of the principal theme.[8]

The pianist and musicologist Luca Chiantore argued in his thesis and his 2010 book Beethoven al piano (new Italian edition: Beethoven al pianoforte, 2014) that Beethoven might not have been the person who gave the piece the form that we know today. Chiantore suggested that the original signed manuscript, upon which Ludwig Nohl claimed to base his transcription, may never have existed.[9] On the other hand, Barry Cooper wrote, in a 1984 essay in The Musical Times, that one of two surviving sketches closely resembles the published version.[10]

Identity of "Elise"[edit]

It is not certain who "Elise" was, although a list of possible dedicatees have been suggested by various scholars over the years. Evidence suggests that "Elise" was a close friend of Beethoven and probably an important figure in his life.

Therese Malfatti[edit]

Therese Malfatti, widely believed to have been the dedicatee of "Für Elise"

Max Unger suggested that Ludwig Nohl may have transcribed the title incorrectly and the original work may have been named "Für Therese",[11] a reference to Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza (1792–1851). She was a friend and student of Beethoven's to whom he supposedly proposed in 1810, though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik in 1816.[12] The piano sonata no. 24, dedicated to Countess Thérèse von Brunswick, is also referred to sometimes as "für Therese". The Austrian musicologist Michael Lorenz[13] has shown that Rudolf Schachner, who in 1851 inherited Therese von Droßdik's musical scores, was the son of Babette Bredl, born out of wedlock. Babette in 1865 let Nohl copy the autograph in her possession. Dr. Robert Greenberg, who teaches music through The Great Courses, as well as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and elsewhere, points out that Beethoven's notoriously sloppy handwriting might easily have led to the title "Fur Therese" being misread as "Fur Elise".[citation needed]

Elisabeth Röckel[edit]

A portrait of Elizabeth Röckel.
Portrait of Elisabeth Röckel by Joseph Willibrord Mähler
Anna Milder-Hauptmann, letter to "Frau Kapellmeisterin Elise Hummel", 1830

According to a 2010 study by Klaus Martin Kopitz, there is evidence that the piece was written for the 17-year-old German soprano singer Elisabeth Röckel (1793–1883), the younger sister of Joseph August Röckel, who played Florestan in the 1806 revival of Beethoven's opera Fidelio. "Elise", as she was called by a parish priest (later she called herself "Betty"), had been a friend of Beethoven's since 1808,[14] who, according to Kopitz, perhaps wanted to marry her.[15] But in April 1810 Elisabeth Röckel got an engagement at the theater in Bamberg where she made her stage debut as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni and became a friend of the writer E. T. A. Hoffmann.[16] In 1811 Röckel came back to Vienna,[17] in 1813 she married there Beethoven's friend Johann Nepomuk Hummel.

In 2015 Kopitz published further sources about Beethoven's relationship to Röckel and the famous piano piece. It shows that she was also a close friend of Anna Milder-Hauptmann and lived together with her and her brother Joseph August in the Theater an der Wien. In a letter to Röckel, which she wrote in 1830, she indeed called her "Elise".[18]

In 2020 an extended English version of Kopitz's essay was published with some new sources.[19]

Elise Barensfeld[edit]

In 2014, the Canadian musicologist Rita Steblin suggested that Elise Barensfeld might be the dedicatee. Born in Regensburg and treated for a while as a child prodigy, she first travelled on concert tours with Beethoven's friend Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, also from Regensburg, and then lived with him for some time in Vienna, where she received singing lessons from Antonio Salieri. Steblin argues that Beethoven dedicated this work to the 13-year-old Elise Barensfeld as a favour to Therese Malfatti who lived opposite Mälzel's and Barensfeld's residence and who might have given her piano lessons.[20] Steblin admits that question marks remain for her hypothesis.[21]


The piece can be heard as a five-part rondo, with the form A-B-A-C-A. It is in A minor and in 3
. It begins with the refrain A, a flowing melody in binary form marked Poco moto (literally "a little motion," a tempo indication that does not appear elsewhere in Beethoven's works), with an arpeggiated left hand accompaniment. The unaccompanied oscillation between the dominant E and its chromatic lower neighbor D-sharp that begins the melody has become one of the most recognizable openings in classical music, but it also serves as a main topic of musical discussion. The digression at measure 9 glances at the relative major before returning to the original theme and key, preceded by a prolongation of the dominant, E that extends the opening lower-neighbor oscillation. The pitch outline of these bars, E-F-E-D-C-B, i.e. an upper-neighbor ascent to F5 followed by a descending scale, also forms the basis of the two episodes B and C, thus unifying the piece. The B section that begins in bar 23 is in the submediant, F major. Its theme begins by tracing the outline mentioned above in somewhat elaborated fashion and modulates to the dominant, followed by 32nd-note runs repeating a cadential progression in C major in a codetta-like passage. (The chordal three-note upbeats in the left hand have been anticipated by the transition to this episode in bar 22, a clever unifying touch.) This suggests a rather expansive form, but Beethoven suddenly returns to the dominant of A minor in bar 34, once again lingering on the dominant E and its lower neighbor and leading to an exact repeat of the A section. Although another nominal episode follows (C) at bar 59, it does not leave the tonic and is rather coda-like in feel, unfolding over a dramatic, throbbing tonic pedal in the bass and emphatically cadencing in the home key. Once again, there are unifying relationships with previously heard material. The melody retraces the descending outline alluded to earlier, and the cadence in bars 66-67 is an augmented version of the theme's cadence in bars 7–8. After a glance at a Neapolitan harmony (B-flat major) and a cadence at bar 76 that brings the music to a complete halt for the first and only time, an ascending A minor arpeggio and a chromatic descent over two octaves follows, sort of a cadenza in tempo, leading to a final repetition of the A section. The piece concludes without an added postlude.

Kopitz presents the finding by the German organ scholar Johannes Quack [de] that the letters that spell Elise can be decoded as the first three notes of the piece. Because an E is called an Es in German and is pronounced as "S", that makes E–(L)–(I)–SE: E–(L)–(I)–EE, which by enharmonic equivalents sounds the same as the written notes E–(L)–(I)–DE.[13][22]


\new PianoStaff <<
  \time 3/8
  \new Staff = "up" {
    \tempo "Poco moto" 4=70
    \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t
    \partial 8 e''16\pp dis''
    e'' dis'' e'' b' d'' c''
    a'8 r16 c' e' a'
    b'8 r16 e' gis' b'
    c''8 r16 e' e'' dis''
    e'' dis'' e'' b' d'' c''

  \new Staff = "down" {
    \clef bass
    \set Staff.pedalSustainStyle = #'bracket
    \partial 8 r8
    a,16\pp\sustainOn e a r8.
    e,16\sustainOff\sustainOn e gis r8.
    a,16\sustainOff\sustainOn e a r8.


Für Elise is widely recognized around the world. It is a piece of intermediate difficulty, graded at a level 7 out of 10 by The Royal Conservatory of Music.[23] According to the pianist Lang Lang, "it may appear simple, but it presents its own challenges." A large number of children's toys incorporated the tune. In Taiwan, Für Elise is one of the two melodies garbage trucks play to ask residents to bring out their trash, the other being Maiden's Prayer.[24] Für Elise is nearly universally featured on ringtone websites.[25]

Mina Yang suggested that the melody is popular because the first eight bars can be adapted into a limited "sonic palette" better than most other classical works. This made the melody well-suited for ringtones and music boxes. Moreover, the structure of the first eight bars has some interesting properties:

The opening chromatic trill allows immediate identification of the work. The first four antecedent bars are answered neatly by the next four consequent bars, and then the whole eight bars can be looped and repeated ad infinitum.[25]


  1. ^ Assuming that Beethoven's Op. 33 Bagatelles are numbers 1 to 7, Op. 119 Bagatelles are numbers 8 to 18 and Op. 126 Bagatelles are numbers 19 to 24


  1. ^ William Kinderman, The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 125–126, ISBN 978-0-521-58934-5
  2. ^ Dorothy de Val, The Cambridge Companion to the piano, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 131, ISBN 978-0-521-47986-8, "Beethoven is here [in the 1892 Repertory of select pianoforte works] only by 'Für Elise', but there is a better representation of later composers such as Schubert ..., Chopin ..., Schumann ... and some Liszt."
  3. ^ Morton Manus, Alfred's Basic Adult All-In-One Piano Course, Book 3, New York: Alfred Publishing, p. 132, ISBN 978-0-7390-0068-7
  4. ^ Fuld, James J. (2000). The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. Courier Dover Publications. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-486-41475-1.
  5. ^ Ludwig Nohl, ed. (1867). Neue Briefe Beethovens. Stuttgart: Cotta'sche Buchhandlung. p. 28.
  6. ^ Ludwig van Beethoven, Klavierstück a-Moll WoO 59 "Für Elise". Kritische Ausgabe mit Faksimile der Handschrift BH 116, Skizzentranskription und Kommentar. Sieghard Brandenburg, Bonn 2002, pp. 8 and 15
  7. ^ Oppermann, Annette (30 November 2011). "Beethoven, Für Elise WoO 59 – Do you strike the right note?". G. Henle Verlag. Retrieved 19 May 2023.
  8. ^ Für Elise – the piece students love and teachers love to hate on YouTube, 30-minute talk by Prof. Dr. Joachim Reinhuber
  9. ^ Luca Chiantore: Beethoven al piano. Barcelona: Nortesur, 2010, p. 333–360, ISBN 978-84-937357-6-0
  10. ^ Alex Ross (16 October 2009). "Who Wrote 'Für Elise'?". The New Yorker.
  11. ^ Max Unger, translated by Theodore Baker, "Beethoven and Therese von Malfatti," The Musical Quarterly 11, no. 1 (1925): 63–72.
  12. ^ Michael Lorenz: "Baronin Droßdik und die verschneyten Nachtigallen. Biographische Anmerkungen zu einem Schubert-Dokument", Schubert durch die Brille 26, (Tutzing: Schneider, 2001), pp. 47–88.
  13. ^ a b Michael Lorenz: "'Die enttarnte Elise'. Die kurze Karriere der Elisabeth Röckel als Beethovens 'Elise'" Archived 29 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Bonner Beethoven-Studien vol. 9, (Bonn 2011), 169–90.
  14. ^ Kopitz, Klaus Martin (2010). Beethoven, Elisabeth Röckel und das Albumblatt "Für Elise". Cologne: Dohr. ISBN 978-3-936655-87-2.
  15. ^ Kopitz 2015, p. 55.
  16. ^ Kopitz 2015, p. 53f..
  17. ^ Kopitz 2015, p. 54.
  18. ^ Kopitz, Klaus Martin (January 2015). "Beethovens 'Elise' Elisabeth Röckel. Neue Aspekte zur Entstehung und Überlieferung des Klavierstücks WoO 59" (PDF). Die Tonkunst [de]. 9 (1): 48–57.
  19. ^ Kopitz, Klaus Martin (Winter 2020). "Beethoven's 'Elise' Elisabeth Röckel: a forgotten love story and a famous piano piece" (PDF). The Musical Times. 161 (1953): 9–26.
  20. ^ "War Mälzels Sängerin auch Beethovens 'Elise'?" by Juan Martin Koch, Neue Musikzeitung, 15 November 2012 (in German)
  21. ^ "Geheimnis um Beethovens 'Elise' gelüftet?", Die Welt, 16 November 2012 (in German); Steblin, Rita: "Who was Beethoven's 'Elise'? A new solution to the mystery." In: The Musical Times 155 (2014), pp. 3–39
  22. ^ Kopitz 2010, pp. 50f.
  23. ^ Music, Royal Conservatory of Music (2022). Piano Syllabus. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-55440-953-2.
  24. ^ "When You Hear Beethoven, It's Time to Take Out the Trash (and Mingle) (Published 2022)". 8 February 2022. Archived from the original on 9 February 2022. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  25. ^ a b Yang, Mina (1 February 2006). "Für Elise, circa 2000: Postmodern Readings of Beethoven in Popular Contexts". Popular Music and Society. 29 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1080/03007760500142613. ISSN 0300-7766. S2CID 191457480.

External links[edit]