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Classical Notes

For Elise

Posted at 1:23 PM on May 26, 2006 by Rex Levang (28 Comments)

Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is one of the best-known pieces of classical music in the world. It's practiced by millions, stored on cell phones all over the world – in Taiwan, it’s said, garbage trucks use it as a signal for people to put their trash out.

But there’s still a certain mystery about it. As far as we know, Beethoven never knew a woman named Elise. Did he intend the piece for another woman, whom he fancifully addressed by the name “Elise”? Or did he really call it “Für Therese” (for his friend Therese von Brunsvik), only to have his messy handwriting misinterpreted by a later editor?

A look at the manuscript could clear that one up -- except that the manuscript has been missing for over a century.

All of this prompted by an engrossing story on the blog of composer Derek Bermel, all about a hard-to-reach kid, a young music teacher at loose ends, a Big Event looming in the future, and Beethoven. It’s a long story, so be advised.

I hope Bermel copyrights his material -- this one could have screenplay written all over it. (To check out some of Bermel's music, listen to
Tied Shifts and Soul Garden on the Saint Paul Sunday website.)


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