Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ Doesn’t Deserve Your Eye Rolls

The ubiquity of “Für Elise” — like Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” — doesn’t void its masterly craft, nor does it preclude the potential of performances on the extent of Mr. Levit’s. But the attention rolls proceed. In his biography “Beethoven: A Life,” which was not too long ago translated into English, Jan Caeyers writes that the work “has assumed a significance in Beethoven’s oeuvre that’s totally disproportionate to its musical import.”

That could be true, however it’s a extreme judgment however. For the outsize fame, we are able to thank the catchy title, an abbreviation of the dedication: “For Elise on 27 April as a remembrance of L. v. Bthvn.” If the piece had come down in historical past merely as Bagatelle in A minor (WoO 59, from the “Werke ohne Opuszahl” catalog of Beethoven works with out official opus numbers), it doubtless would have remained a stunning obscurity.

Beethoven drafted and devoted it in 1810, although it remained unpublished in his lifetime. He’s thought to have revisited it within the early 1820s, most certainly with an eye fixed towards together with it in his Op. 119 Bagatelles, however he finally left it out. The scholar Ludwig Nohl finally found and revealed it within the mid-1860s, igniting a debate over the identification of “Elise” that continues to this present day.

Turning into a fixture of music classes, spreading with the rise of mass media, discovering new audiences as the road between excessive and low tradition blurred: All led to the ultra-ubiquity of “Für Elise.” By the point I used to be a toddler, within the early Nineteen Nineties, all I needed to do was push a piano-shaped button on a toy to listen to the opening theme. It was so entrenched in my reminiscence that I might play it, crudely, earlier than I might learn a be aware of music.

Mr. Levit recalled comparable experiences; he too realized “Für Elise” by ear. Then he grew to become fascinated by, for instance, a fleeting dissonance or a passage of enveloping tenderness. “This piece is an absolute jewel,” he mentioned.

I requested him to broaden on that, utilizing his copy of the rating from G. Henle Verlag. Mr. Levit has remained busy through the pandemic: He streamed an extended collection of every day live shows from his condominium, placed on a marathon performance of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” and appeared round Europe. However like everybody, he has additionally been unusually homebound, recently baking challah and enjoying guitar. So he had time to dive deeply into the three pages of “Für Elise.” (All audio clips are excerpted from Mr. Levit’s Sony recording.)

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