The True Story Behind Beethoven’s Für Elise

by Lars Nelissen  // updated: August 13, 2022

If you want to TRULY MASTER this famous bagatelle or learn the ins and outs, then this is a MUST READ

The History of Für Elise

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote 51 bagatelles, including Für Elise, probably written in 1810. Many bagatelles were published during Beethoven's life and bear an opus number, but Für Elise was one of those published after his death and no less than 40 years after, in 1867 by the Beethoven scholar Ludwig Nohl, as Bagatelle in a-minor WoO 59. WoO stands for the German words: Werke ohne Opuszahl, meaning work without opus number. In the works of Chopin, for example, we often see "opus posthumous," meaning the work is published after the composer's death. This doesn't necessarily mean the same thing.

sketch in beethoven's handwriting with für elise  from 1822 - beethoven haus bonn

Sketch in Beethoven's handwriting with Für Elise from 1822 - Beethoven Haus Bonn

Ludwig Nohl claimed to have seen the original autograph, which has since disappeared, never to be found again. All that is left is a sketch in Beethoven's handwriting, dating from 1822, together with a few other compositions. It was a draft of compositions that Beethoven considered at the time for publication. In the autograph is written according to Nohl: "Für Elise am 27 April zur Erinnerung von L.v. Bthvn." Meaning: To Elise on April 27th as a memory to L.v. Beethoven. Hence the name "Für Elise" that it has gotten. The until 1867 unknown piece was found in 1851 among the personal papers of Therese von Droßdick, born Malfatti, who gave it to Miss Bredl in Munich. 

therese von droßdick née malfatti

Therese von Droßdick née Malfatti

Who Elise was is still unclear? And several theories are in circulation. Beethoven was in love with Therese Malfatti, who also took piano lessons with him at the time of writing. She married someone else later on. So most likely, Elise was a misreading of Therese or otherwise her pet name. A misreading wouldn't be surprising because Beethoven's handwriting was very hard to read. Scholars spent many years interpreting his handwriting. Remember also that the autograph was found among Therese's papers many years after Beethoven's death. That fact would be odd if the piece didn't belong to her. If Elise and Therese weren't one and the same person, Elise must have been an acquaintance whom Beethoven met once or twice. At the time, it was fashionable among artists to dedicate little pieces of art as a manner to bestow recognition to a friendship, with no romantic intentions in most cases. In fact, most of Beethoven's compositions are dedicated to benefactors and friends.

ludwig van beethoven. found in the collection of philharmonie de paris.

Ludwig van Beethoven. Found in the Collection of Philharmonie de Paris.

What is a bagatelle?

A bagatelle is a little, uncomplicated instrumental piece typically for piano with light character. Beethoven wrote quite a few of them, 51 that I know of. Most of them were published during his life under the opus numbers 33, 119, and 126

We pianists revere Beethoven for his legacy of piano sonatas, thirty-two of them, and not without very good reason. Those sonatas embody his robust genius in all manifestations. His sonatas are serious and, except for a few easier ones, challenging works for the piano. They develop from his early classical yet romantic style, moving to a high romantic tempestuous middle period. From the Hammerklavier sonata onwards, the late Beethoven style becomes more and more complex and introspective, even esoteric. At this time, he was composing in virtually complete deafness, only having his inner ear to guide him. No serious pianist should go forward bypassing these masterworks. They bear significant importance in the development of not only piano playing, but also of music history in general. 

Nevertheless, the bagatelles are not to be neglected, little gems of genius that show the master composer from a lighter side.

Video Tutorial

What do you learn in the video?

If you truly wish to master this piece and at the same time improve your piano playing, you should watch this video for sure!

Piano Technique

I'll show you about how to use the fingers and arm in playing Für Elise. This will help you to play more professionally and with beautiful sound. Learn more about piano technique.

Music interpretation

The music behind the notes, "find the hidden meaning," as Beethoven wrote to Therese. I'll show you in-depth the meaning of the music and how to achieve this.

Watch Für Elise fully played by Lars Nelissen

At the end of the video, I shall play the music from beginning to end without stopping.

I made a mistake in playing this piece, an old childhood mistake that didn't leave me. I tell students to avoid mistakes in the text from the start to avoid wrong muscle memory.

Free Score Download Für Elise with my fingerings and arm movements

Free Download

Download Complete Score of Für Elise

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