Bagatelle

Ludwig van Beethoven

Bagatelle in A minor

WoO. 59 • “Für Elise”

Recommended recording

Curated by Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Among enthusiasts of Beethoveniana, the identity of the "Elise" in the title of the composer's most famous piano miniature, Für Elise, is almost as much of an enigma as that of the "Immortal Beloved." (One of the most popular theories is that "Elise" is actually "Therese" -- that is, Therese Malfatti, the longtime object of the composer's affections.) Given the modest technical demands of this work -- it has long been a favorite of keyboard novices -- it is reasonable to conclude in any case that "Elise" was a beginning piano student.

Though usually designated a bagatelle, Für Elise has the form of a compact rondo (ABACA). In spite of its brevity, the work bears the distinctive stamp of its creator. There is a slight hint of brooding in the Slavic-tinged A minor refrain; the B episode, in F major, possesses the yearning, songlike character of so many of Beethoven's slow movements. In the C episode, a very effective modulation from D minor to B flat major is achieved via a simple but very characteristic half-step shift in the bass. Like a tiny cut gem, Für Elise is flawless; even in an effort of such petite proportions, one is reminded of Leonard Bernstein's observation of the "sense of rightness" which pervades all of Beethoven's works.

Done