Composed by L.V. Beethoven in 1810, published in 1867
GENERAL ANALYSIS of Für Elise
The piece showcases a five-part Rondo Form of ABACA.
The A itself is a Ternary A1-A2-A1 of 22 bars.
It is worth mentioning that the first time A appears, it has two repeat marks; one for A1 and one for A2-A1, giving a total of 44 heard bars.
The C section is divided in two. The second half is a cadenza-like moment, appearing near the end, and could easily be removed without altering the Overall Form of the work.
The complete form of the piece is, therefore, A(1-1-2-1-2-1)-B-A(1-2-1)-C(1-2)-A(1-2-1)
The A is clearly given a lot of importance and always appears unchanged.
This is the reason why the opening of this piece is the most recognizable part of it, since it is heard a total of 16 times (twice in each A1) in this short, 3-minute-long piece.
Why so Repetitive?
There must be many reasons why Beethoven chose to keep repeating the same passage unchanged. One might be that this allows him to enhance the B and C sections' contrasting effect.
Although the composer changes the Melody, Harmony, Key and even the Rhythm in the Secondary Themes, he always comes to the same iconic Theme. He sets a promise of returning which he always fulfills.
The Harmony is one of the elements that the composer uses to contrast A with B and C.
For most of A, we only see I and V of our key (A minor), with one occurrence of I and V in the relative key (C major). All of them appear in root-position.
However, the contrasting B and C sections make use of pre-dominant chords, as well as secondary chords, inversions, pedal points, and modulation to more distant keys.
Why so Limited?
The A section needs to be the most stable of the three sections, because of its frequent reappearance. That is why the harmonic choices are limited to root position I and V.
The most harmonically intense moment of the piece would be the first half of the C section (C1). Beethoven uses a series of Diminished chords. In the end, we can see the very distant E♭ chord.
Therefore, the Harmonic Climax is around the two-thirds of the piece, very near the golden ratio.
MELODY & RHYTHM
The Overall Melodic and Rhythmic patterns are relatively stable. A constant semiquaver (16th) rhythm is maintained in either the left or the right hand. We see a very linear melody, looking at the structural notes.
Melodic and Rhythmic Climax
The triplet semiquavers appear simultaneously with the highest notes of the piece. They both occur at the second half of C (C2), creating the Rhythmic-Melodic Climax.
It is worth noting that this Climax comes right after the Harmonic Climax. They are all very near the golden ratio.
The Sound is one of the resources used to create contrast by both the Composer and the Performer.
Texture - Composer
Beethoven uses "Melody and Accompaniment" Texture throughout the piece, but a different kind for every Section.
In the A, the composer chose arpeggios which almost merges with the Melody.
In the B and the C, he uses an Alberti Bass and a repeated semiquaver-pattern on the left hand accordingly. He separates the right from the left hand, the Melody from the accompaniment.
Dynamics - Performer
Looking at the original score of Fur Elise, we don't see any dynamic marks but the pp at the beginning of the piece and in bar 77.
This is clearly an instruction for the general approach of the piece. However, the Performer is free to apply his own dynamics that would, ideally, go along with all the previous notions.
The B and C sections are often performed louder, for example, enhancing their contrast with the A. We see this instruction frequently in later prints of the piece.
Sound (textural) Climax:
The densest Texture appears in the C1 Section. In this almost Homophonic Section, we see all three, four or five voices played simultaneously, making every dissonance stand out. Parallelly, the Dynamic Climax would also make sense to appear in the C section along with all the rest.
In many performances, we hear two loudest moments in C, one in each half. While the first is in C1 (bars 60-77), there is often a second crescendo in C2 (77-82) matching the Rhythmic-Melodic Climax.
It is worth noting that the second Climax would appear right after one of the two pp markings by the composer. Because of this, it should be the weaker of the two.
It would also be the weaker Climax, because there is not enough time, like in the first part of C, to develop. Instead, we have to soften the volume for the return of A immediately.
DETAILED ANALYSIS of Für Elise
The piece begins with a Dominant V. The right hand outlines E, D and B insisting on the root, E.
This well-known opening lasts for an upbeat and a whole bar, functioning as a lead-in.
We will find this lead-in later in the return of A1 after A2, B and C (bars 13-16 34-38 and 80-82 respectively). It appears varied every time, since it merges with the Section preceding it.
The lead-in, along with its resolution on A, will be considered our basic idea (b.i.).
FORM OF A
The first Theme is a simple Period consisting of the predicted Antecedent-Consequent phrases.
In the Antecedent, we have an Imperfect Authentic Cadence (I.A.C.), finishing the Melody on the third (C).
In the Consequent, we have a Perfect Authentic Cadence (P.A.C.), finishing the Melody on the Tonic (A).
Although the Harmony alone cannot guide us to understand the structure and the cadences, the Melody is a useful guide.
We see the distinct repetition of the b.i. in bars 6-7 and the two finishing notes, C and A, in bars 4 and 8 respectively. We can safely conclude that, indeed, have a Period with an I.A.C. and a P.A.C.
HARMONY OF A
As said in the Overall Analysis above, the Primary Theme only uses I and V in A minor.
FORM OF A2
A2 is only a 4-bar Phrase finishing on a V, extended to a Standing on the Dominant on the next 3 bars.
The 4-bar Phrase is a Continuation. The fragmentation is a prominent characteristic, which appears in single-bar fragments in an almost sequential manner. There is also a Half Cadence (H.C.) at the end of it, but incomplete (no Pre-Dominant), like the cadences of A1.
This H.C. allows Beethoven to add the post-cadential Standing on the Dominant which merges with the introductory lead-in of the A1 following in bar 15.
HARMONY OF A2
The steady and straightforward root-position Tonic-Dominant chord progression is one of the elements that connect A1 with A2.
Nevertheless, the brief modulation to the relative major at the beginning of A2 brings a discreet, refreshing contrast.
FORM OF B
This Secondary Theme comes in the form of a Hybrid Theme. To be precise, a Compound Basic Idea (C.B.I.) + a Continuation.
The Theme, by means of Cadential deviations, is extended from the expected 8 bars to 16 bars (b. 23-38). The Theme is extended utilizing an Evaded Cadence on the seventh bar (b. 30). It is then further extended with another Evaded Cadence (b. 32) and yet again in bar 34.
The last extension becomes a Standing on the Dominant, which merges with the lead-in of the A1 following in bar 38. The same treatment appeared just before, connecting A2 and A1.
HARMONY OF B
The Theme begins with an upbeat V of our new Key, F major (VI of the original Key).
Although Melody would suggest that the first Phrase (b.23-26) is an Antecedent (basic idea+contrasting idea), F's pedal point creates Tonic Prolongation. Following Harmony, we understand why this is a Compound Basic Idea (C.B.I.).
Entering the second Phrase (Continuation, b. 27-30), we have modulated diatonically to C major, where we are going to cadence.
However, after three Evaded Cadences, the composer inserts the V of our original Key, creating a chromatic modulation back to A minor.
Why so many Evasions?
The abrupt nature of the Evaded Cadence is the perfect way to insert this Dominant.
At the same time, the choice of Evading the cadence twice before modulating works as a preparation for the third 'big' Evasion.
Much like a 'big' melodic leap would have to be prepared and then compensated, this 'big' modulatory Evasion must be approached smoothly.
C1, C2 ANALYSIS
Bars 60-77, 77-82
FORM OF C1
There are two ways to characterize the Form of C1:
1. We can perceive it as either two Hybrid Themes (C.B.I.+Consequent).
2. Or we can consider the Consequents as Compound Contrasting Ideas (C.C.I) and identify the whole 16 bars as a Compound Period of a Compound Antecedent (b. 60-67) and a Compound Consequent (b. 68-75).
We will refer to it as a Compound Period here.
At the end of the Compound Consequent, we see that the expected Dominant comes in the form of a Diminished VII (b. 74) resolving to an I6 (b. 75). This weak cadence is what we call an Abandoned Cadence, which calls for a strong Dominant at the next bar (b. 76). However, although the V is resolving to a root-position tonic (b. 77), the register, rhythm and texture change so abruptly that we have to consider this an Evaded Cadence.
FORM OF C2
We should consider C2 as an extension of C1, following the Evaded Cadence.
However, because of its distant character to what preceded, and its long duration, we can label it as a separate, parenthetical sub-section.
C2 resembles the Cadenza of a soloist, before the end of a Concerto.
The end of this Section is merging with the lead-in of the A1 following (b. 82). In the next bar, we finally get the postponed resolution of C, which was Abandoned and Evaded in C1 (b. 74-77).
HARMONY OF C
C begins with a C.B.I and a pedal point on the Tonic, starting on the lead-in bar (b. 59)
The following 4 bars are therefore a prolongation of the Tonic.
One could notate the chords ignoring the pedal note, as it is done here. However, one could notate including the A on the bass. By doing so, we uncover a Ninth Chord (b. 60), which was not commonly used at the time of this piece's compositions.
It is interesting to see how the Dominant Ninth, even here, is not yet treated as an independent chord.
Similarly, the next chord (b. 61) is technically IV in the second inversion. Being one of the few cases that 6/4 occurs, we can tell that this inversion only appears when the bass line demands it and loses its independence as a chord.
Entering the C.C.I (b. 64), the composer abandons the Pedal Prolongation and contrasts it with an accelerated Harmonic Rhythm and a Cadential Progression finishing on a P.A.C.
The following C.B.I. begins identically to the one preceding.
However, Beethoven leads us to B♭ major, the Neapolitan II, breaking the pedal point one bar sooner (b. 71).
This B♭ becomes our new pedal point for the next two bars. We briefly see an embellishment in the form of E♭ major, the IV of B♭, in second inversion (b. 72).
Much like before, the 6/4 chord only appears to ornament the Harmony, without gaining independence.
The return of B♭ major in bar 73 functions as the Neapolitan II, initiating the cadence.
Instead of the V, expected in bar 74, we see a VII chord making this the Abandoned Cadence mentioned in the 'Form of C1'.
After the resolution in I6 (b. 75), we expect a P.A.C. to follow.
In bar 86, the Dominant appearing Dominant promises to resolve with an Incomplete Cadence, only for another Cadential Deviation to appear in bar 87, in the form of an Evaded Cadence.
The C2 Section postpones the resolution until bar 82, where it merges with a V, finally resolving in bar 83.