Beethoven wrote Für Elise in 1810, likely for one of his romantic interests Therese Malfatti. Many see Beethoven as the bridge between the classical and romantic eras. He wrote Für Elise as he was exploring elements that would become part of the coming Romantic era. In this article we will:
- Type Für Elise as either classical or romantic.
- Learn the differences between classical and romantic music.
Für Elise’s Musical Style – Classical vs. Romantic
So is Für Elise Classical or Romantic? Für Elise is an early Romantic piece because of the intense and sometimes clashing emotions it expresses. That said, it adheres closely to Classical forms, and is not nearly as intense as Late Romantic works, so I would type it as Early Romantic.
Classical Vs Romantic Music
To better place Für Elise let’s explore both periods of music.
Main Characteristics of Classical Era Music
Generally the Classical era extended from 1750 to 1830. These dates are rough approximations; some pieces before 1830 fall under the Romantic classification. Two main descriptors of classical music are “pleasantness” and “elegance.”
During the classical era, musicians began to compose for the up and coming middle class instead of just for the aristocratic elite.
To appeal to wider audiences classical composers such as Mozart and Haydn adhered to easy to understand compositional forms (such as sonata form). The music is often in a major key, and is pleasant to listen to. There are few intense or clashing emotions present.
This example of a Mozart sonata (composed in 1783) is typical of Classical era pleasantness and elegance.
Main Characteristics of Romantic Era Music
Generally the Romantic Era extended from 1830 to 1900. Two descriptors of Romantic era music are “self-expression” and “passion.” In the Romantic era, composers were no longer interested in composing for the masses, but instead wanted to express the deep emotions that they felt.
As Dr. Justin Wild of cmuse.org says “Classical music was highly expressive and communicative, but the romantic composers drew perhaps an even greater focus on the human condition and the struggle of the spirit” (source: cmuse.org/classical-vs-romantic-music/)
As they expressed the deep struggles of the human spirit, the rigid Classical period forms were expanded upon and sometimes pushed to a breaking point.
Chopin’s Ocean Etude composed in 1836 is a great example of a Romantic era piece:
I typed Für Elise as early romantic. Beethoven composed it in 1810. Do you see how stylistically it is in between Mozart’s 1783 sonata and Chopin’s 1836 etude?
Für Elise adheres nicely to rondo form, like you’d expect from a Classical piece, yet it explores more passionate internal emotions as expected of Romantic music. In the end I think the elements of the Romantic era are more prevalent than elements of the Classical era.
Listen again for the overall nostalgic feel and the passionate section at 1:37 that are shadows of the romantic era to come.
Was Beethoven Considered Classical or Romantic?
Many consider Beethoven the bridge between Classical and Romantic era music. He learned his craft during the classical era, but even then his music was harsher and more chromatic than what was expected of the time.
Beethoven’s musical style by the 1800’s began to include elements of the coming romantic era – increased contrasts, more minor tonality, and experimentation with musical forms.
By his death in 1827 he was composing highly introverted, and self-expressive music (partially due to his deafness?) that could more easily be classified as Romantic.
Is Für Elise Part of the Baroque Era?
No, Für Elise is not part of the Baroque era. The Baroque era ended in 1750. Beethoven composed Für Elise in 1810. Für Elise follows the Classical era rondo form, and has Romantic era elements (as discussed earlier) .
What is the mood of Für Elise?
The general mood of Für Elise is melancholy. Each section of Für Elise has a unique mood. The main theme sounds nostalgic, however, there is also a sparkly and excited section in a major key, and a murky stormy section in a minor key.
Is Für Elise a Sonata?
Für Elise is not a sonata but a rondo. Rondos have a main theme that alternates with secondary themes throughout the piece. They follow the form of: ABACA. In addition, sonatas are typically 15-30 minutes long while Für Elise is only 2-3 minutes long.
Who Was Elise in Beethoven’s Life?
A musicologist discovered Für Elise 40 years after Beethoven’s death. Unfortunately the original manuscript that included the dedication is lost. Most believe that Beethoven actually dedicated Für Elise to Therese Malfatti who had possession of the piece after his death. It’s possible that Beethoven’s sloppy hand writing made Für Therese look like Für Elise.
Beethoven wrote Für Elise at a time when he was experimenting with elements common to the Romantic era such as intense emotions, and deeper contrasts. That said, it still adheres to the Classical rondo form. Overall, I’d type it as an early Romantic piece.