This wonderful image is the Ode to Joy art installation by Giacomo Zucca in Bundesstadt, Bonn. As far as I’m able to work out, the piece was commissioned by the Goethe Institute for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth last year.
As I told you in my Music Blog a couple of weeks ago, I love Beethoven especially the symphonies, piano concertos and, more recently, the string quartets.
Sorting out my box of piano music yesterday,
I came across a book of Beethoven pieces I received as a birthday present when I was about ten or eleven and having weekly piano lessons. Included in the collection of fairly well known music was that Beethoven favourite, Fur Elise. I imagine that every aspiring piano student learns this ubiquitous tune at some point in their first few years at the keyboard.
It’s probably about forty years since I last played the piece but I rather enjoyed it yesterday and it evoked a few memories of my lovely piano teacher, Miss Heaps. (Read more about Miss Heaps in Cabbage and Semolina: Memories of a 1950s Childhood.)
But who was Elise?
Turning to that fount of all knowledge aka Wikipedia, I learned that there are three contenders for the famed place in musical history. But nothing is definite as the piece was discovered about forty years after Beethoven’s death and he left no note as to the identity of his muse.
There is speculation that the original transcription was wrong and should have been titled Fur Therese. And then, Beethoven’s friend and student Therese Malfatti takes the title. There’s even a rumour that Ludwig and Therese were an item and he’d proposed marriage which she rejected in favour of an Austrian nobleman.
However, other Beethoven experts think Elise could have been Elisabeth Rockel. She was a younger sister of one of Beethoven’s musician friends. She was a singer and Beethoven was apparently quite keen on her too. But, Elisabeth took a job in the theatre away from Vienna and on her return she was married to one of Beethoven’s other friends.
The third possibility is that Elise was the child prodigy, pianist Elise Barensfeld. Elise was tutored by one of Beethoven’s friends and also by the aforementioned Therese Malfatti. So Beethoven might have just been on the prodigy band wagon.
I like the Therese story best. How about you? But it doesn’t really matter because whoever Elise was, thousands of emerging pianists know her name and many, many more long suffering family and friends have had to listen to it. Let’s face it: once is quite enough, over and over again while it’s being practiced is akin to torture!
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