Ludwig von Beethoven's Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor, nicknamed Für Elise, is probably his most recognized piano piece—if not his most recognizable composition, period. Thanks to Schroeder in A Charlie Brown Christmas, millions of kids have probably grown up calling it "Beethoven Christmas music"!
This bagatelle (or albumblatt, as it is also called) was not even published until 1867, well after Beethoven's death. Ludwig Nohl, who discovered the piece, indicated that the original manuscript was dated 1810; that manuscript of Für Elise, however, has been lost. What we're all used to hearing today is actually an earlier version, one Nohl transcribed; a later version of Für Elise (with significantly different accompaniment) was transcribed by musicologist Barry Cooper.
One of the most intriguing questions around this piece is who "Elise" was. Was there one special woman in Beethoven's life for whom he wrote this bagatelle? One widely accepted hypothesis is that Nohl miscopied the title of the piece, and that it actually read "Für Therese." This would make sense: Therese Malfatti von Rohrenback zu Dezza was a student of Beethoven's for whom he held special regard—he actually proposed marriage to her. (She turned him down, marrying Austrian nobility instead.) Of all the possible dedicatees for Für Elise, she's the most likely candidate, especially since there is some evidence that this work was among the musical scores in her estate following her death.
Whether you think of this Bagatelle in terms of a musical love poem or as "Beethoven Christmas music," plan to have an enjoyable time mastering Für Elise. It's one of the most enduring, and endearing, pieces of standard piano repertoire.
Download and print Fur Elise Sheet Music
Download and listen Fur Elise Audio Clip
Listen to Fur Elise improvised by Yoke Wong