The Beethoven-Malfatti Connection Revisited

By Beahrs, Virginia | The Beethoven Journal, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Beethoven-Malfatti Connection Revisited

Beahrs, Virginia, The Beethoven Journal

"Elise" or "Therese"?

Ever since 1867, when Ludwig Nohl published his discovery of the autograph copy of Beethoven's fortepiano piece, WoO 59, with its tantalizing handwritten notation ("Für Elise am 27 April mit Erinnerung von L. V. Bthvn"; "For Elise on April 27 in remembrance from L. V. Bthvn"), devotees of the composer and his music have speculated on who this Elise might have been and the possible significance of the date.1

But was the recipient indeed someone named "Elise"? Or, as Max Unger postulated half a century ago, should the name properly be read "Therese," Therese closely resembling Elise in German script? If Therese is correct, the piece would conceivably have been intended for Therese Malfatti (1792-1851), since the autograph copy of "Für Elise" eventually turned up in Munich in the possession of her niece, one Fraulein Bredl, who had received it among papers passed on to her after the death of her aunt.2 Among recent critics, William Kinderman follows Unger's widely accepted reading. Barry Cooper, however, prefers the original "Elise," noting that often in German poetry, even in an occasional German . song, Elise is simply a term of endearment analogous to the English use of "Phyllis" for "nature." Thus Cooper reasons that "Beethoven may have used it to denote These Malfatti."3 Some critics even question the pertinence of arguments over the Elise/Therese distinction. Albrecht Reithmüller, for instance, quoting Shakespeare's Juliet, asks, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet."4 Such criticism aside, however, the inscription and Beethoven's plans in 1810 warrant a reexamination.

Largely on the strength of the autograph copy of "Für Elise" having been in Therese Malfatti's possession, the probability that Therese was intended remains most plausible. Other Elise's who might be convincing are conspicuously absent in the life story of Beethoven. Neither Elise Keyser nor Elise Müller was a fortepianist (both were singers). Elise Bürger appears as an object of disdain in a letter of 1809 from Beethoven to his friend Gleichenstein: "you might find , some girl at F[reiburg] ... who would perhaps now and then grant a sigh to my harmonies. But she must not be like Elise Bürger." Elise seeburg, the Brunswick's cousin, is another unlikely prospect.5 Beethoven did not know Elisabeth (Elise or Elisa) van der Recke, mistress of the poet Tiedge, until he joined their circle of literati at Teplitz in the summer of 1811. In a letter to Beethoven she enclosed, along with two Tiedge poems, some verses of her own - "poetic offerings of my soul" - hoping he might "find a few of my spiritual songs worthy of composition!, giving them] a value they do not yet have."6

For the purpose of this discussion, I am assuming that Beethoven did indeed present "Für Elise" to Therese Malfatti "in remembrance" as the autograph states - remembrance, I believe, not of the often perceived but unsubstantiated romance read into the relationship, but of heart warming intimacy with the entire family during many months of cherished association with the warm and welcoming Malfatti circle. Before turning to the details of the case, a brief summary of the history of Beethoven's relations to the Malfattis is in order.

Beethoven and the Malfattis

Although a story of a formal proposal of marriage from Beethoven to Therese was passed down from generation to generation, often embellished by the supposition that Beethoven was devastated by a refusal from Therese, no positive documentation exists to authenticate it. Apparently, the story was based on three considerations that are discussed below. Although each is an outgrowth of certain known "givens" stemming from actual experiences, hypothetical interpretation of these givens too often lacks a firm foundation in any verifiable fact.

First, an interview of Therese's niece with Beethoven biographer Thayer many years later which - though testifying to Beethoven's fondness for Therese and perceived hope to marry her - stops short of confirming an actual offer of marriage. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Beethoven-Malfatti Connection Revisited


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.