Für Elise by Beethoven

Für Elise by Beethoven

Bagatelle No. 25, in A minor WoO 59 (work without opus number), commonly known as “Für Elise“, is a piano composition by Ludwig van Beethoven from 1810. It was published more than 40 years after his dead, in 1867. The common title comes from the lost autograph, which, according to Ludwig Nohl, bore the inscription: “Für Elise on April 27 in memory of L. v. Bthvn”. The missing year can be deduced from the attempt BH 116 in the Beethoven House.
The short rondo-like piece is one of Beethoven’s most famous works. It has the form A–B–A–C–A.

Für Elise in A minor
Name Für Elise (For Elise)
Genre Bagatelle
Key A minor
Catalog WoO 59
Composer Ludwig van Beethoven
Composition date April 27, 1810
Publication date 1867
Orchestra Piano
Duration around 2’50

History of Für Elise

First attempt for the main melody of WoO 59 (Für Elise), 1808, excerpt from Mus. ms. autograph. Beethoven Landsberg 10
First attempt for the main melody of WoO 59 (Für Elise), 1808, excerpt from Mus. ms. autograph. Beethoven Landsberg 10

Three sources have been handed down for the piece, on the basis of which four stages of work can be identified.

  • In 1808, Beethoven sketched out the main melody in a sketchbook for the pastoral. The note can be found on page 149, lines 6 and 7. This page was later removed and is now under the signature ms. autograph. Beethoven Landsberg 10 in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library). It is a monophonic, sixteen-bar melody, which differs from later versions, especially in the preludes of the middle section and in the final turns of bars 7 and 15, as well as in the absence of the two-bar organ point on E.
  • In 1810, an extensive draft of the entire piece was created in two phases, which is now kept in the Beethoven House under the signature BH 116. The double sheet also contains sketches for the Egmont Music 84, which was premiered on 15 June 1810, as well as for the march WoO 19, which Beethoven completed on 3 August 1810. The sheet can therefore be dated to the spring of 1810.
  • This design was probably the basis for the autograph with the dedication, which was created on 27 April 1810 and is now lost, and which was first published by Ludwig Nohl in 1867. To this day, Nohl’s publication forms the basis for almost all publications of the piece.
  • BH 116 still contains an adaptation made in 1822. It was apparently written at a time when Beethoven no longer had the autograph manuscript he had given to the dedicatee, and presumably had the aim of bringing the piano piece into a version suitable for publication. As No 12, it was intended to mark the end of a cycle of Bagatelles. During the revision, Beethoven titled the piano piece molto grazioso. He shifted the accompanying figures of the A-part in his left hand by a sixteenth to the right, relieving the beginning of the bar. In addition, he led the accompanying figure partially into a lower register and thus expanded the sound. In Part B, Beethoven returned to a melodically and rhythmically more complicated version, which was discarded in 1810. He did not leave the presumed overall structure of the piano piece completely untouched and inserted four previously unused bars as a transition to Part B. On the other hand, he deleted four introductory bars noted in 1822 that fit the A section. In the instruction for the recapitulation of the last recurring part A, he prescribed una corda,  which can refer to this part itself or only to the newly drafted, three-bar, probably chord, but only unanimously notated conclusion. Beethoven did not produce a complete version as a result of the 1822 arrangement.

The relatively long process of creation and its various stages (1808–1810 and 1822) show that Für Elise is not an occasional work, but was understood by Beethoven himself as an important composition.

Musical characteristics

The basic structure of the piano piece, entitled poco moto (Italian for somewhat moved), consists of three periodic parts, which are loosened up and connected with interludes that seem improvisatory, resulting in the rondo-like form A–B–A–C–A.

The pianissimo A  part in A minor has some special features that elevate it beyond a simple period. The chromatic prelude with its circular semitone step e”–dis” becomes the distinctive feature of the piece due to its playful expansion in the interlude, which also determines the other, differently designed interludes. The interweaving of the main melody with the chordal accompaniment is typical of a genuinely instrumentally invented piano movement, in which it is not possible to distinguish with certainty between melody and accompaniment. The metric ratios are also unclear at the beginning. The division of the sixteenth notes between the player’s two hands suggests a 6/16 time instead of the 3/8 time. The 3-16th prelude formations, which occur frequently compared to the first draft, support the latent hemiolic effect.

Part B is motivically connected to Part A in the prelude by the three upward leading notes of the second voice and their countermovement in the lower voice. This is followed by a melody modulating from F major to C major and a part with 32nd notes leading back from C major to the main key of A minor, which is also determined by the upwardly leading 3-16th motif with a countermovement.

Part C looks like a coda due to its five-bar organ point, which, however, after shifting to the key of the Neapolitan, leads to the A minor of an interlude. This interlude in 16th triplets, which is kept in the pedal throughout, first brings the dissolved tonic triad of A minor three times pianissimo upwards and then a chromatic scale downwards, which leads seamlessly into the opening figure of the final A part. Except in this interlude, the pedal is prescribed only in the main part A. Both also bear the volume designation pp.

All in all, the compositional signature is typical of the “middle Beethoven”, in which a tendency towards a wide variety of repetition patterns in form and motifs can generally be recognized.

Theories on the dedicatee of Für Elise

Ludwig Nohl, who was living in Munich at the time, discovered the piece in 1865 from the local teacher Barbara (“Babette”) Bredl (1792–1880), the mother of the pianist and composer Rudolph Schachner (1816–1896), the friend of the house and heir to the music of Therese Malfatti. It had obviously gotten there via Schachner. Nohl made a copy of the autograph, which initially remained with Babette Bredl and went missing soon after Nohl’s discovery. The copy contained a kind of power of attorney, which was printed in the first separate publication (1870): “I have had Prof. Dr. Nohl copy the above piano piece here from Beethoven’s original manuscript and allow him to use and publish it in any way. Munich, July 14, 1865. Babeth Bredl.” A short time later, a report about the find appeared in the trade press.

In the commentary on the first publication of 1867, Nohl wrote that the piano piece was “not written for Therese [Malfatti]”, but bore the dedication from Beethoven’s hand: “Für Elise on 27 April in memory of L. v. Bthvn”. He could not determine the identity of the dedicatee, which gave rise to research and speculation.

The musicologist Albrecht Riethmüller argued that it was not the dedication that was the mystery of the piece, but its success. Even with unequivocal proof of the dedicatee, nothing is gained for the piece and, above all, for its eminent effect, which is important musically and music-historically.

Therese Malfatti

Beethoven's spelling of the name "Therese" in his letter to Therese Malfatti of May 1810
Beethoven’s spelling of the name “Therese” in his letter to Therese Malfatti of May 1810

In 1923, the Beethoven scholar Max Unger doubted the title with the dedication, since in his opinion there was no woman named “Elise” in Beethoven’s life at the time in question: “If you know the life of the master a little better, you can only think of two Beethoven friends of the first name Elise: The musical daughter of the Bremen cathedral cantor Wilhelm Christian Müller, who had been actively involved in Beethoven’s piano works in her homeland since 1807,  and Elise von der Recke.

But neither of them can be considered as a devotee: Tiedge’s friend did not meet the tone poet until 1811 in Teplice, and Elise Müller’s relations with the tone poet date from even later times.” From this, Unger concluded that Nohl mistraned the name on the autograph and that the piece actually bore the dedication “Für Therese”. Beethoven intended to marry Therese Malfatti in 1810. However, the marriage did not materialize. Therese Malfatti was indeed in possession of the autograph for a long time. However, Nohl, who discovered the piece, had already expressly remarked that it was “not written for Therese”.

Elisabeth Röckel

Beethoven's spelling of the name "Elisa" in his letter to Elisa von der Recke dated October 11, 1811. The dedication "Für Elise" in Beethoven's writing could have looked similar
Beethoven’s spelling of the name “Elisa” in his letter to Elisa von der Recke dated October 11, 1811. The dedication “Für Elise” in Beethoven’s writing could have looked similar

The musicologist Klaus Martin Kopitz put forward a second thesis on the dedicatee in 2010 and supplemented it with additional aspects in 2015 and 2020. He pointed out that there was a woman named “Elise” in Beethoven’s life: the then 17-year-old singer Elisabeth Röckel from Neunburg vorm Wald, with whom he had been close friends from 1808 to 1814. She became the wife of Johann Nepomuk Hummel in 1813. Kopitz states:

  • It is unlikely that an acknowledged Beethoven scholar like Nohl would accidentally decipher a name like “Therese” as “Elise”, especially since he directly emphasized that the piece was “not written for Therese”. On the basis of Beethoven’s writing samples, it can be proven that it is practically impossible to confuse the two names. This was also made clear by Jürgen May in 2014.
  • Johannes Quack thought he had discovered that Beethoven had formed the initial motif from the three-tone letters of the name E-L-I-S-E, whereby he enharmonically exchanged the S (E♭) as D♯. This also indicates that the dedication “Für Elise” is correct.
  • Elisabeth Röckel, who was originally baptized with the name “Maria Eva” and later called herself “Elisabeth” after her mother, was apparently also known under the then fashionable name “Elise”. This is evidenced by a letter from her friend, the singer Anna Milder-Hauptmann, who was also a close friend of Beethoven during the period in question. In the conscription sheet of the Theater an der Wien, where Elisabeth lived in the official residence of her brother Joseph August Röckel, she was already mentioned in 1805 as “Elis. [!] Rökel”. In 1814, at the baptism of her son Eduard, she was registered as “Maria Eva Elise”.
  • Several contemporaries state that the composer even wanted to marry the singer, and “that Beethoven felt his rejection by Elisabeth Röckel hard”, as it says in a necrology (1883). When she visited him again shortly before his death, however, his secretary Anton Schindler learned from her herself “what deep roots her former love for Beeth. beaten and still live in it.”
  • In April 1810 she decided to accept an engagement at the theatre in Bamberg, so that the album sheet could actually have been written “in memory” for her.
  • Later, she may have lent the album sheet to Therese Malfatti, which would explain why it ended up in her estate.

In 2011, the Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz doubted that Elisabeth Röckel called herself “Elise” and could therefore have been the recipient of the dedication in an essay expanded by a postscript from 2013, in which he examined some Viennese archival sources and found that Elisabeth Röckel was only referred to as “Elise” on the occasion of the baptism of her first son. In an official copy of the baptismal register, however, she was listed as “Mar. Eva Elisabeth”.

At her marriage to Hummel (1813) she was listed as “Maria Eva”, and she also signed a letter to the Vienna Tonkünstler Society (1837). After the death of her father (1827), she appears in the “Sperr-Relation” of the Vienna magistrate as “Elisabeth verh. Bumblebee”, after the death of her mother (1840) as “Eva”. She signed a letter as “Betty” (short form of “Elisabeth”) (1817). As Lorenz also remarks, “in the Vienna of the Vormärz there was no longer any distinction between the names Elisabeth and Elise, they were interchangeable and virtually identical”, but a first name and acquaintance with Beethoven were not sufficient for identification as Beethoven’s Elise; rather, the identification of the person with his or her direct connection to the lost autograph stood or fell.

An important objection to the thesis that Elisabeth Röckel was Beethoven’s Elise is that Klaus Martin Kopitz cannot explain conclusively how the autograph of the album sheet from Elisabeth Hummel came to Babette Bredl in Munich.

Elisabet Barensfeld

A third thesis was put forward in 2012 by the Canadian musicologist Rita Steblin, according to which the singer Elise Barensfeld, who comes from Regensburg, could have been the recipient of the dedication. However, there is no evidence that she belonged to the composer’s circle of acquaintances.

Elise Schachner

In 2013, Michael Lorenz presented a fourth thesis, which Jürgen May also considers conceivable. According to this, the later owner Rudolph Schachner could have attached the dedication – for his wife Elise (née Wendling) or his daughter, who was also named Elise. However, this is contradicted by the fact that Ludwig Nohl expressly stated that the entire addition, including the dedication on the autograph, came “from Beethoven’s hand”.

Für Elise editions (selection)

  • In 1867, Ludwig Nohl published the “quite graceful piano piece” for the first time in his book New Letters of Beethoven. He stated that he had Beethoven’s autograph as a model. Differences to BH 116 probably go back to the lost autograph. These include, for example, in measure 7, in the right hand, the second note e’; on the other hand, d’ is found in the parallel passages in measures 21, 44, 58, 88 and 102. The fact that Nohl remained close to the original can be seen in the necking, the balkung, the accident setting and the inconsistency of articulation and pedaling, as well as in the incomplete dynamic designations.
  • In 1870, the year of Beethoven’s 100th birthday, the piece was published separately for the first time under the title Für Eliseby the Leipzig publishing house C. F. Kahnt. The edition contains the imprint of the above-mentioned power of attorney of Babette Bredl.
  • In 1888, Nohl’s musical text, critically questioned and altered in trifles, was included as a piano piece in A minor in the supplementary volume of the complete edition of Beethoven’s works.
  • From about 1890 onwards, editions of various publishers and editors followed, most of which were practically oriented. Nohl’s musical text and the musical text of the complete edition were prepared with instructions for metronomization, dynamics, articulation, phrasing, fingering and an adjustment of parallel passages. As Für Elise or sometimes also Album Sheet Für Elise,  the piano piece became generally known through these editions.
  • In 1976, Otto von Irmer published an Urtext edition in which he was guided by BH 116 and therefore, for example, did not take over numerous pedal indications from earlier editions. In measure 7 and in all the bars corresponding to him, he chose the tone d′ instead of the e′ in Nohl’s book for the melody of the right hand from BH 116. Irmer’s output also meets practical requirements with added fingerings
  • In 1991, Barry Cooper also created a version based on BH 116. He used the transition to Part B (Ü1) envisaged by Beethoven in 1822 and separated Part C into two independent parts by inserting Part A in between and using the bars discarded by Beethoven on BH 116, page 1, lower right as a further transition (Ü2). Cooper himself referred to the three-part A as ABA and came up with the following form: ABA–Ü1–C–ABA–D–Ü2–ABA–E–ABA–final bars.
  • In 2002, Sieghard Brandenburg provided his critical edition with a facsimile of the manuscript BH 116, a sketch transcription and a commentary. In terms of form, it corresponds to Nohl’s first edition.


  • By Alfred Brendel, Richard Clayderman, Emil Gilels, Wilhelm Kempff, Michael Krücker, Valentina Lisitsa, Anatol Ugorski and many others.
  • On many classical and piano samplers, often with romance, reverie and the like in the title.

Arrangements in pop music

  • Caterina Valente & Silvio Francesco: Red Roses Will Bloom (1959)
  • Shocking Blue, Broken Heart (on the album Attila, 1972)
  • Alice: Per Elisa (1981)
  • Accept: Metal Heart, part of the solo (1985)
  • Nas: I Can, rap version (on the album God’s Son, 2002)
  • Tenacious D: Classico (on the album The Pick of Destiny, 2006). There is an official cartoon-style video clip for this almost one-minute-long rock piece for vocals and acoustic guitar.
  • Saint Motel: Für Elise, (on the album Saintmotelevision, 2016), short quote from the theme head.
  • Cherry Bullet (체리블렛): Hands Up (무릎을 탁 치고), (1st digital single 2020), using the theme head.
  • 1Movement leader: Für Elise (on the album Eskalation, 2020)
  • AK Ausserkontrolle: For the thieves, rap version (on the album S.S.N. 2, 2020)
  • Leony: No More Second Chances (2021)

Use of Für Elise as film music

  • Kiss Me, Fool by Billy Wilder, 1964
  • The Hunted Man of the Sierra Madre by Sergio Sollima, 1966
  • Last Greetings from Uncle Joeby Bryan Forbes, 1966
  • Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polański, 1968
  • Death in Venice by Luchino Visconti, 1971
  • Un genio, due compari, un pollo by Ennio Morricone (Cavalcata … Per Elise), 1975
  • Luzie, the Terror of the Street by Jindřich Polák and Ota Hofman, 1980
  • Damn, the Zombies Come by Dan O’Bannon, 1985
  • Bill & Ted’s Crazy Journey Through Time by Stephen Herek, 1989
  • James Bond 007 – Licence to KillJohn Glen, 1989
  • Fearlessly by Peter Weir, 1993
  • Ludwig van B. – My Immortal Beloved by Bernard Rose, 1994
  • The War at Home by Emilio Estevez, 1996
  • The Butcher Boy by Neil Jordan, 1997
  • Patch Adams by Tom Shadyac, 1998
  • Guilty by Anthony Waller, 1999
  • My Life So Far by Hugh Hudson, 1999
  • The Safety of Objects by Rose Troche, 2001
  • Elephant by Gus Van Sant, 2003
  • Street Style (You Got Served) by Chris Stokes, 2004
  • Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino, 2009
  • Dream House by Jim Sheridan, 2011
  • Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino, 2012
  • Für Elise by Wolfgang Dinslage, 2012
  • Flying Lovers by Pedro Almodóvar, 2013
  • Nymphomaniac by Lars von Trier, 2013
  • The Walk by Robert Zemeckis, 2015
  • Sisters by Jason Moore, 2015

References (sources)