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Beethoven's Mistery

Updated on August 14, 2015

Ludwig van Beethoven is no doubt one of the greatest composers of all time and many of his works became timeless classics. One of those compositions is the remarkable, misterious and unforgetable Für Elise, which was only published many years after his death. The masterpiece's name might not sound familiar to many people, but the melody is surely known all around the world.

The mistery

Soon after its discovery, in 1867 by the German music scholar Ludwig Nohl, one obvious question aroused: who was this Elise?

As far as every one knew, Beethoven had a frustrating love life due to class issues. Even though he was a famous and successful musician in Vienna, world's capital of classical music, no noble family would allow their daughter to marry a mere commoner. Because of this "birth barrier", he had to settle with love letters to his countesses and baronesses. He also dedicated some of his compositions to those frustrated relatioships, such as the Mondscheinsonate (Moonlight sonata), which was dedicated to Julie Guicciardi. This complex situation led him to write another mysterious work: the letter adressed to an "Immortal Beloved" ("Unsterbliche Geliebte", in German).

Currently, it is still unclear who this Elise was, but many theories and possible candidates were appointed over the centuries:

Austrian musician and Ludwig van Beethoven's love interest Therese Malfatti
Austrian musician and Ludwig van Beethoven's love interest Therese Malfatti | Source

Therese Malfatti

German musicologist Max Unger suggested that Nohl, the discoverer of the original autographed manuscript, had transcribed the composition's title wrongly. According to Unger, the work may have been called originally Für Therese, alluding to Therese Malfatti, an Austrian musician with whom Beethoven fell in love.

It is clear that the famous composer had deep fellings for Therese during the time Für Elise was written (1810), as evidenced by the book "Beethoven and Therese von Malfatti", written by Unger and Theodore Baker. There's even a theory that Ludwig may have proposed unsuccessfully to her, but this is also shady. Nevertheless, the masterpiece was allegedly found among her personal papers.

What makes it more uncertain is the fact that Beethoven was in love with another woman in the same period, which was...

Portrait of Josephine Brunsvik
Portrait of Josephine Brunsvik

Josephine Brunsvik

Ludwig gave her piano lessons for some years and, after her first husband's death (in 1804), wrote her at least 15 love letters between 1804 and 1810. Josephine is regarded by many as the most likely recipient of the famous “Letter to the Immortal Beloved", written in 1812 while the composer was in Tepliz recovering from illness.

In 1810, the year Beethoven wrote Für Elise, she married the Estonian Baron Christoph von Stackelberg.

Elisabeth Röckel

In 2010, musicologist and composer Klaus Martin Kopitz suggested that the German soprano singer Elisabeth Röckel, who some called by the nickname "Elise", was the one. Besides the matching name, Röckel had also been a friend of Beethoven's after first meeting him in 1808.

Juliane Katharine Elisabet Barensfeld

In 2012, It was hypothesized by the Canadian musicologist Rita Steblin that Juliane Katharine Elisabet Barensfeld, also nicknamed "Elise". Barensfeld, who was regarded awhile as a prodigy, toured with Beethoven's friend Johann Mälzel and then lived with him for some time in Vienna.

Have your say

Who do you think was Ludwig van Beethoven's "Elise"?

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    • Hugo Pressman profile image

      Hugo Pressman 2 years ago from Brazil

      He's one of my favorite composers too. My grandma used to tell me this story when I was a kid, but I had to do some research before writing about it in order to check some infos and dates haha

    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 2 years ago

      I love listening to Beethoven as a former musician but this hub brought up something i did not know about or think about.