Like Heart and Soul
, Fur Elise
is one of the pieces that piano
students love, and piano teachers hate.
As zgirll above says, most beginers at the piano play it--a version of it. The actual, original, authentic composition, by Ludwig van Beethoven, catalogue WoO 59, is currently in the grade 6 List of the Syllabus of the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, out of 10 grades--not a piece that beginers can play; it has been revised to grade 7 in the new edition to be released this fall.
Heart and Soul, by Hoagy Carmichael, a great American singer and song writer, does certainly permit many arrangements; I admit the first piece I ever played was a version taught by another student while waiting for a piano class--my first lessons; it was a duet that, surprisingly modern, could be played without end--or until the teacher cried Stop!
In 13 years as a piano teacher, I have only taught the original twice, once to an advanced, and energetic teen-age boy, and now to a quite competent adult. It was difficult to ensure the edition had the correct catalogue number. This was important for Mark, my teen, because anything else would not have been accepted for his examination.
For Jennifer, my adult, I also wanted her to have, at the end of all her work, the actual piece. Depending upon the way the repeats are arranged, the complete verion of Fur Elise can be from 6 to 8 pages long. In addition to the E D# E D# E D# E D# famous openning in sixteenth notes (that most play by ear), there are long sections in thirty-second notes, twice as fast as the sixteenths. (There are 4 sixteenths to a beat, and 8 thirty-seconds to a beat; not an easy feat when the actual tempo is quite fast.)
I cannot bear to see younger, or less adept students struggle with a one or two page simpification, only to arrive at the end of their work with nothing that sounds anything like what they may have been listening to, if indeed, they have been listening to the original piano work. If not, they have been listening to some arrangement for ensemble, or electronic instruments, complete with video, and just as unachievable as any top hit on MTV or, in Canada, Much Music.
At the piano school where I teach, all of my colleagues share my disdain for this piece, even the actual, but even more for the virtual; our job is to help our students play music, to help them to find piano teaching books that present the thousands of great works that are just waiting for them to find and enjoy.
It is sad when a student, particulary a good one, feels the only pieces worth playing are the ones he has heard before, from a video, a commercial, a movie, at a hockey game; I work hard to show them that often what has never been heard before is more beautiful, more satisfying than one they may never even be able to reproduce.