This is one of THE most famous classical pieces of all time. Anyone who has ever taken piano lessons can at least play the beginning. I'd even venture to say that if you know nothing else by Beethoven, you know this one. And true to the Beethoven asthetic, no piece of music was written "just because". When he wrote a piece, it served a purpose.
Beethoven's life of music is generally divided into three periods: Early, Middle, and Late. More specifically, these periods are known as the Classical, Herioc, and Romantic periods. It is the Herioc period which concerns us today.
Beethoven's Herioc Period began during a time of personal crisis. This middle period spanned the years between 1803 and 1814; he was in his twenties. It was at this time Beethoven recognized his encroaching deafness. He suffered from severe tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which made it very difficult for him to appreciate his art. He also began to avoid conversations with people. During this time, he frequently contemplated suicide. His hearing loss also made him iracible and it is alleged that he also suffered from bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, he resolved not to end his own life but to suffer for his art. It was this suffering that marks his Herioc Period. During this time is when he wrote most of his large-scale works - works that express heroism and struggle - most of which are quite famous today.
It was also during this time that "Fur Elise" was composed, dated April 27, 1810. However, the piece wasn't published until 1865 - 38 years after Beethoven's death. While there is no hard, documented evidence, "Fur Elise" is generally accepted by the musical community to be a mistranscription of an illegible, handwritten title that appeared on the piece when it was discovered. It is believed the true title of the piece is "Fur Therese".
"Therese" was one of Beethoven's love interests, Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza, who was one of his students. Beethoven did not have successful romantic relationships because his tastes steered him towards women who were either already married or who belonged to the aristocracy. Beethoven had planned to marry Therese in 1810. However, she declined his proposal in 1816. Therese was the daughter of wealthy Viennese merchant Jacob Malfatti von Rohrenbach. Knowing Beethoven's knack for choosing women who were out of his league, it should not surprise us that she instead married the Austrian nobleman and state official, Wilhelm von Droßdik.
The song is written in a minor key, which means that it sounds agitated, dark, sad, ominous, and just not happy, but the song is really a love song. During the Beethoven era, the word "Elise" was also used to describe one's sweetheart, so today we may also loosely apply the piece's title to our sweethearts in general, with no specific person in mind. MUAHHHH!
...and since this blog LOVES all things pop culture, what a more fitting way to present this piece than a la Richard Clayderman's most excellent, bogus rendition:
"Fur Elise" - Richard Clayderman
(gathered from hither and yond, near and far, with a few sprinklings of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure")