Track of the Day: 'Für Elise'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

You don’t have to be a classical musical snob to recognize this track—it might even be your ringtone:

The trickling tune was covered by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross in 2009: “Although Pachelbel’s Canon, ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik,’ and the ‘Ode to Joy’ provide stiff competition, Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’ is probably the most numbingly familiar of classical melodies. Myriad times a day it is murdered by novice piano students, only to rise up again.” Infamous though it may be, “Für Elise” has built quite a following: A fan website dedicated to the song allows readers to submit the story of their first encounter with the Beethoven classic, which turns 206 today! (Or at least, we think it does.)

In honor of the song’s purported big day, press play on the 60-minute cut above and read about Beethoven’s natural genius, courtesy of an 1858 Atlantic profile of the composer:

The boy had an inborn love of the beautiful, the tender, the majestic, the sublime, in nature, in art, and in literature,— together with a strong sense of the humorous and even comic. [...] Beethoven was no exception to the rule, that only a great man can be a great artist. True, in his later years his correspondence shows at times an ignorance of the rules of grammar and orthography; but it also proves, what may be determined from a thousand other indications, that he was a deep thinker, and that he had a mind of no small degree of cultivation, as it certainly was one of great intellectual power. Had he devoted his life to any other profession than music—to law, theology, science, or letters—he would have attained high eminence, and enrolled himself among the great.  

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