This week begins our six week exploration of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, though that will hardly scratch the surface of his enormous output. The year 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven (1770) and an opportunity to focus our attention on this amazing composer, who against so many physical and emotional challenges wrote music that inspires and continues to speak to us today.
The first piece you will listen to is the very well known Fur Elise written sometime between 1808-1810. The dedication, “Fur Elise,” has puzzled music historians who have tried to identify the dedicatee. One theory is that the editor misread Beethoven’s writing and believe that he wrote, “Fur Therese,” referring to Therese Malfatti whom was a student of Beethoven’s and to whom he had proposed marriage. Another theory is that the dedicatee was Elisabeth Rockel, a singer, whose nickname was “Elise.” What we do know is that Beethoven was unhappy in love, and though he proposed marriage to several aristocratic women, he was turned down each time and never married.
While listening to Fur Elise this week, notice how the opening motive sounds as if it has been playing before we began to hear it and returns after parts B and C. What is the tonality of this piece, major or minor or a combination? When does it change? Does the opening motive sound different after hearing parts B and C? What is the character or emotional message? Does it stay the same or change? Why do you think Beethoven wrote the LH with so many repeated notes in part C? What would that part sound like if it just had a whole note octave in the LH instead of the repeated notes?
Here is one more rendition of Fur Elise that may surprise you and certainly would have surprised Beethoven!
Another piece to listen to this week is the very famous and well-known Fifth Symphony- at least the first four notes are well known! This piece was written during the years 1804-08 a similar time period as Fur Elise. Beethoven’s hearing was continuing to deteriorate and though he was not completely deaf he was close to it. We will discuss his loss of hearing more in next week’s post. The excerpt is a humorous blow by blow account of the music as if it were a football game, but it will help you know what to listen for in this ground breaking symphony.