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Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ Doesn’t Deserve Your Eye Rolls

Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ Doesn’t Deserve Your Eye Rolls
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Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ Doesn’t Deserve Your Eye Rolls

Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ Doesn’t Deserve Your Eye Rolls

The ubiquity of “Für Elise” — like Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” — doesn’t void its masterly craft, nor does it preclude the potential of performances on the extent of Mr. Levit’s. But the attention rolls proceed. In his biography “Beethoven: A Life,” which was lately translated into English, Jan Caeyers writes that the work “has assumed a significance in Beethoven’s oeuvre that’s completely disproportionate to its musical import.”

Which may be true, but it surely’s a extreme judgment nonetheless. For the outsize fame, we will thank the catchy title, an abbreviation of the dedication: “For Elise on 27 April as a remembrance of L. v. Bthvn.” If the piece had come down in historical past merely as Bagatelle in A minor (WoO 59, from the “Werke ohne Opuszahl” catalog of Beethoven works with out official opus numbers), it seemingly would have remained a stunning obscurity.

Beethoven drafted and devoted it in 1810, although it remained unpublished in his lifetime. He’s thought to have revisited it within the early 1820s, almost certainly with a watch towards together with it in his Op. 119 Bagatelles, however he in the end left it out. The scholar Ludwig Nohl finally found and printed it within the mid-1860s, igniting a debate over the id of “Elise” that continues to this present day.

Turning into a fixture of music classes, spreading with the rise of mass media, discovering new audiences as the road between excessive and low tradition blurred: All led to the ultra-ubiquity of “Für Elise.” By the point I used to be a toddler, within the early Nineteen Nineties, all I needed to do was push a piano-shaped button on a toy to listen to the opening theme. It was so entrenched in my reminiscence that I may play it, crudely, earlier than I may learn a observe of music.

Mr. Levit recalled comparable experiences; he too discovered “Für Elise” by ear. Then he turned fascinated by, for instance, a fleeting dissonance or a passage of enveloping tenderness. “This piece is an absolute jewel,” he stated.

I requested him to increase on that, utilizing his copy of the rating from G. Henle Verlag. Mr. Levit has remained busy through the pandemic: He streamed a protracted sequence of each day live shows from his residence, placed on a marathon efficiency of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” and appeared round Europe. However like everybody, he has additionally been unusually homebound, these days baking challah and enjoying guitar. So he had time to dive deeply into the three pages of “Für Elise.” (All audio clips are excerpted from Mr. Levit’s Sony recording.)

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