CLOSE
beethoven-haus-bonn.de/
beethoven-haus-bonn.de/

Who is the Elise in “Für Elise”?

beethoven-haus-bonn.de/
beethoven-haus-bonn.de/

“Für Elise” may be one of Beethoven’s best-known works, but it’s also one of his most mysterious.

The identity of "Elise" has eluded historians and scholars for decades. The bagatelle wasn’t discovered and published until 40 years after Beethoven’s death, so he certainly wasn’t around to tell tales of the woman who had inspired the composition. Scholars believe “Elise” must have been pretty close to Beethoven, but no one has been able to definitively prove who she really was. Over the years, however, two frontrunners have emerged: Therese Malfatti and Elisabeth Roeckel.

Elisabeth Roeckel, known to her friends as Elise, was the younger sister of Joseph Roeckel, a singer who performed in Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. She wrote letters documenting her flirtatious relationship with the composer when she was younger, and remained close to him until his death in 1827. Roeckel visited Beethoven just a few days before he passed away, taking a lock of his hair and accepting a gift of one of his quills.

The woman most people believe to be Elise, however, has long been Austrian singer and performer Therese Malfatti. It’s thought that Beethoven proposed to Malfatti around 1810, and she either rejected him outright or accepted and changed her mind shortly thereafter. If that’s the case, why would it be named “Für Elise” instead of “Für Therese”? The argument is that it was "Für Therese"—and somewhere over the years, the name was mistranslated. Another fact working in Malfatti’s favor: The original manuscript in Beethoven’s hand was found in her possessions after her death, apparently labeled “Für Therese.” It has since gone missing, resulting in a classical music mystery for the ages.

Elise—whoever she is—isn’t the only mystery woman in Beethoven’s life. The subject of his “Immortal Beloved” letters has also been much debated over the years.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
iStock
iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios