Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770 and settled during his adult years in Vienna, arguably the center of art, music and culture of the time. In Vienna, he was a revered composer who helped bring instrumental music to the spotlight, demonstrating in his many works how its emotional range and virtuosity could be as effective in reaching audiences as vocal pieces had been. Among an extensive catalog, three of his most signature works are recognizable today by even the most casual listener: his fifth and ninth symphonies, and his Bagatelle No. 25 in A Minor, a piano piece known as “Für Elise,” and performed by every beginning piano student.
There are, however, some outstanding questions regarding the origin and naming of “Für Elise.” Although Beethoven had written the score in 1810, researchers indicate the manuscript was lost until 1867, well after the great composer had died, when a German music scholar transcribed and published it.
But who is Elise?
This might be a case of misinterpretation. Beethoven, who was known for illegible writing, inscribed the handwritten manuscript with the phrase, “For Elise,” which has been attributed to Elisabeth Röckel, a noted musician and friend of Beethoven’s. But many have asserted that the transcriber misread Beethoven’s scribbling, and that the dedication was actually, “For Therese.”
Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza was a former student of the great composer. He had fallen in love with her and proposed to her that same year, in 1810. Therese declined, instead marrying Australian nobleman, Wilhelm von Drossdik.