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The first piece on the menu is composed by none other by Beethoven, the great Ludwig van, titled Für Elise.

Actually, it's full title is somewhat more confusing:

However, since it was written for a lady named Elise, we'll call it just that. Already we're delving into the story behind the notes.

As we get acquainted with the background of the composer and the meaning it held for him, we will gain better understanding of his worldview, manifested through his music.

In Beethoven's time, very few composers gave names to their compositions, choosing instead to number them based on their previous work, sharing the same type and key.

Bagatelle is a prime example of this. It falls under a short musical composition, typically for the piano and of light, even mellow character.

Beethoven's three piano sets and this piece are among the best-known bagatelles.

When composers published their work, an opus number would be assigned to it. Beethoven only numbered his most important works in this manner – such as symphonies, sonatas and large-scale compositions.

In 1955, Georg Kinsky, a German musical cataloguist gave an opus number to those smaller compositions originally left without one, and the number given to Elise indicates that this piece is the 59th work of Beethoven not having an opus number.

Why "For Elise"? A man named Ludwig Nohl was the first to set sight on the original manuscript, publishing it with a claim that he saw the words "For Elise" appear on the top of the title page.

Despite dedicating a lot of his pieces to women, Beethoven died a bachelor. Women and love nonetheless had a huge influence on his music, impacting listeners ever since.

So, who was this mystery lady? Among Beethoven experts, there are a few schools of thoughts regarding her identity.

Some researchers claim that Nohl misread Beethoven's poor handwriting and claim that the piece was actually written for Therese Malfatti, former student of Beethoven's, whom he loved and proposed to in the same year that the piece was written.

This was supported in a letter by Beethoven's friend Ignaz von Gleichenstein, who tells us that Beethoven intended to play Elise for Therese, but drank too much beforehand, rendering himself unable to perform the piece. According to Gleichenstein, Therese made Beethoven write her name on the title page.

Others, like musicologist Klaus Martin Kopitz claimed that Elise was no other than a German soprano Elisabeth Roeckel, another of Beethoven's close friends.

According to him, Beethoven dedicated the piano piece written in A-Minor in "the memory of" Elise since they were separated in 1810, with Roeckel relocating to Bamberg to work in a local theatre.

And there are some, like Bernhard Appel, the director of the Beethoven Archive in Bonn, who said that the dedication could refer to any number of women, since Elise was quite a common name in the Vienna of Beethoven's time.

The original script has been long lost, with some scholars going so far as to suggest that it never even existed.

All that we have is an incomplete draft, sketched on a paper sheet apparently used by Beethoven when sketching out future ideas.

The truth remains as elusive as ever. Nonetheless, it is certain that the person whom the piece was intended could never even suppose that it would become immortal, something that only a great work of art can bestow. Not even Beethoven knew this, since Für Elise got published some forty years after his death.

In other words, you've only got started, and can already claim to know more about the fate of this composition than the man who composed it. Not a bad start, right?

Beethoven's contemporaries often claimed that his manners did not help him move successfully through the societal circles of his era. This became even more pronounced after he lost his hearing, and retreated from the public life. His relationships with women were doomed to fail; Therese Malfatti turned him down and married another, while Miss Roeckel chose his rival and a friend, Johan Nepomuk Hummel for her husband, a move which certainly stung more than mere words can tell.

This is in tune with the nature of music as a language. On the next posting, we'll learn how Beethoven expressed his emotions in this piece.

[Video Version]


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