Ludvig Van Beethoven: Fur Elise

Posted in: Classical by Gwendolyn Cuizon on May 2nd, 2008 | 7 Comments

How the most popular piano piece came to be.

Fur Elise, or the Bagatelle in A Minor, by Ludvig Van Beethoven is designated as WoO 59. It is a famous piece of music for solo piano by Ludwig van Beethoven, written in 1808. WoO means “without opus” is from the German werke ohne opus which translates to “work without opus [number].” The title “Fur Elise” in German is just a dedication meaning simply, “For Elise.”

I like the piece because Fur Elise is one of the most well-known pieces of music in the world. This composition is one of my inspirations in learning piano. It serves as a catalyst that entices many people to become interested in the piano.

The well-known piece was published in 1810 when Beethoven was 40 and already firmly established as one of the greatest composers of all time. His first piano sonatas were published in 1783 when he was 13, so we can safely assume he was capable of writing a comparatively simple piece like Fur Elise 27 years before he supposedly actually did.

Beethoven scholars and critics could not ascertain who “Elise” was in the musician’s life. The piece is named Für Elise because a Beethoven researcher asserted to have seen this dedication on an old manuscript which has not been seen since. The name “Elise” has been the center of speculation. It’s a well known fact that Beethoven was not lucky when it came to relationships. The most popular assumption is that Beethoven originally titled his work “Für Therese”, Therese refers to Therese von Malfatti, the daughter of a Viennese medical doctor, who was the center of Beethoven’s attention at that time. When the work was published after Beethoven’s death, it is believed that his distinctively illegible handwriting was misread as “Für Elise”.

Some scholars, however, believed that Beethoven had purposely referred the work as “Für Elise.” The name “Elise” at that time was a common name to refer to attractive young women. Beethoven often used pet names for women he was close to such as Therese. Although this theory sounds plausible, there are no available sources to verify this theory and which would indicate that Beethoven’s pet name for Therese is “Elise.”

Whether Beethoven intended to write the piece on the letters in the name of his beloved Therese was subject of speculation too. The famous melody begins with the tones E – D# – E, or enharmonically E – Eb – E, which in German languages equivalents E – Es – E, the “tuneable” letters found in the name ThErESE or EliSE.

The tune is very popular and often requested of pianists who performed in informal settings. The simple arrangements can be played by beginners but the unabridged work requires some skills to be able to play it. The entire first section is often taught to new students. The number of people who can master the entire piece though is not significant because the piece requires intricate control of touch and emotion so it will come out right.

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7 Responses to “Ludvig Van Beethoven: Fur Elise”
  • Don Kwikshot May 4th, 2008 at 3:19 am

    I remember playing this piece for an audition when I was 10 years old. Imagine my shame when the musician for whom I was auditioning said “Darling, everybody plays Fur Elise”. It really has become a rather drearily hackneyed thing and certainly not in any way indicative of Beethoven’s genius.

  • Janne June 10th, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the piece, which is why everybody likes it. The hackneyed aspects are to be found in the quality of its performance.

  • Gwen Cuizon June 10th, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Hi Don,

    i think there’s genius in simplicity too.

  • Gwen Cuizon June 10th, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Janne,

    true! its popularity may have reduced fur elise to triteness but beethoven’s genius is in the quality of performance not in its popularity.

  • nino June 29th, 2008 at 6:15 am

    i like this music very much :)

  • Becky May 25th, 2009 at 7:46 pm


  • Glenn February 11th, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    I just discoved Fur Elise and are practicing it daily as a beginner to piano. I can’t get it out of my mind and want to play it so well so badly. Some day.

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