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Famous Musical Pieces: Für Elise

A ringtone favourite for cellphones all around the world, perhaps some more information behind the piece known as Für Elise is in order!

Who was "Elise"?
"Für Elise" is German for "For Elise". Scholars don't know who Elise is. The most accepted theory is that Beethoven originally titled his work "Für Therese". Therese was Beethoven's student whom he wanted to marry. When the work was published in 1865, the discoverer probably mistranscribed the title as "Für Elise".

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Analysis of the Piece
This song is a bagatelle - a short piece of music, usually for piano, and with a light mellow character. Bagatelle means "trifle" in French, as a reference to the innocent character of the piece. It is written as a solo piano piece and written in A minor.

The piece begins in 3/8 with a right-hand melody. If you hear the left hand, or look at the sheet of the first two bars of the piece above, you will see arpeggios. Arpeggios are the notes of chord played in sequence, rather than all together. Here a chord is broken up in the left hand in three separate notes.

The harmonies used are A minor and E major. The next section includes chord progressions of C major and G major, and returns to the main theme. The piece moves into an agitated theme (or a bridge, per se) set on A. The main theme returns, and the piece ends quietly in its starting key of A minor.

Watch the video below to see pianist Atsuko Seta play the piece for a live recording in Toyono Jubel Hall in 2007.

Importance in Pop Culture
The familar melody of Fur Elise has made it the subject of many uses in modern society. Here are just a few:

  • Phoenix Technologies, a computer supplier, uses Für Elise as a warning for faulty hardware
  • In Taiwan, garbage collection trucks play the piece to alert homes of their presence.
  • In Craiova, Romania, Für Elise is automatically played when pedestrians are allowed to cross the street as an aid for the blind.
  • In the Peanuts cartoon special A Charlie Brown Christmas, the character Schroeder played Für Elise quite often. He wanted to play it for the Christmas skit.
  • Rap artist Nas created a song using the melody of Fur Elise as a sample in the background. Click here to see the music video.
  • Zack Kim is a young man who performed Fur Elise on two guitars at the same time. The video can be found on Youtube here.

The Composer
Composer: Ludwig Van Beethoven
Life: 1770-1827

A German composer and pianist, he was a critical figure in the transition from the Classical music to Romantic music period. Born in Bonn, Germany, his father was an alcoholic and so he was responsible for raising his two younger brother. He moved to Vienna, Austria and became known as a piano virtuoso there.

Later on in his life, he suffered a severe form of tinnitus, a "ringing" in his ears that made it hard for him to hear. Beethoven had become deaf. Beethoven used a special rod attached to the soundboard on the piano so he could bite it and feel the vibrations in his jaw. This is how he produced many compositions when he lost his hearing.

He also took care of his nephew when his brother died. He eventually lost custody of his nephew, leaving him heartbroken. This, along with his loss of hearing, led to his depression, pneumonia and decline to death.

Influence on Later Artists
He permanently established a new world of musical thought. The depth and solemnity of Beethoven's melody and later polyphonic richness is a leading source of inspiration for musicians of the Romantic period - including Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Chopin, and Schubert. His symphonies were quite longer than that of the traditional format set by earlier composers such as Franz Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Although Chopin tried to escape the influence of Beethoven, he could not be avoided.

The major composers of the Romantic era seemed to have mixed feelings concerning Beethoven. Brahms embraced the conventions and standards set by Beethoven while Chopin and Schubert vowed to resist his influence. The works by Brahms and Schumann served as continued the styles of Beethoven, while Chopin and Schubert desired to be more original, but evidently emulated Beethoven's successful career. The heroic ideal of Beethoven lives in the works of these composers, and immortalizes his presence in music history.

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20,000 Viennese citizens lined the streets at Beethoven's funeral. Above is a painting of Beethoven's funeral as depicted by Franz Stober (1795 - 1858).

Photo Credits
Piano Lessons Central

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