Beethoven’s Masterpiece Fur Elise: What Piano Grade Is It?
“Fur Elise” by Beethoven is one of the most popular and well-known pieces of classical music ever written. It has been learned by piano students all over the world since its publication in 1865, 55 years after Beethoven composed it in 1810. The piece was officially titled “Bagatelle Number 25 in A minor,” but was commonly nick-named “Fur Elise” due to the inscription found on the original manuscript. While it is not certain who exactly Elise was, she was clearly someone important to Beethoven.
The piece follows a clear A-B-A-C-A format typical of classical pieces. However, it was nearing the end of the classical period and the beginning of the Romantic period, and we clearly hear elements of romantic expression in this piece. It is a great piece for any intermediate pianist to explore. In this article we will go over some of the technical elements in this piece and what piano grade this piece falls into.
What Grade is Fur Elise in Both ABRSM and TCL?
Fur Elise is approximately at grade 5 level piece for both ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) and TCL (Trinity College London). Another piece by Beethoven of similar difficulty that is on the repertoire list for both institutions for grade 5 is Bagatelle in G minor, Op.119 No.1.
It is in G minor, written in 3/4, and about two pages long. While the piece itself is musically very different, with a more ‘straightforward’ classical sound and less of the romantic lyricism of Fur Elise, it is similar enough in complexity to make a fair comparison with Fur Elise in grade placement.
Another song on the ABRSM repertoire list for grade 5 is the song Of Foreign Lands and Peoples by Schumann. It is in the key of G major, written in 2/4 time, and a little less than two pages long. It is also meant to be played at an andantino tempo. Throughout the piece, a right hand melody is played over a rolling triplet pattern in the left hand.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Fur Elise?
How long it might take you to learn “Fur Elise” depends heavily on your experience, skill level, and technique. The piece itself is approximately three pages long, but since the A section repeats twice, there are closer to two pages of unique material that a student will need to learn. It is in the key of A minor and written in 3/8 time. This time signature may look unusual, but it is very similar to 3/4 time, except that there are three eighth notes to a measure instead of three quarter notes. It is felt in three beats, like a waltz.
The first section is not overly difficult in terms of notation. It is a lyrical, moving passage that gives an intermediate pianist the opportunity to practice being expressive while maintaining the pianissimo dynamic. The opening theme is the iconic Fur Elise melody that many people are familiar with.
The first section is broken up into two smaller sections, which both repeat before going into the B section. This next section is slightly more upbeat and has a more varied melody than the first section. It presents certain rhythmic challenges for the right hand with dotted 16th notes and a quick turnaround in measure 27. The left hand must remain steady throughout a modified Alberti bass requiring a chord that uses the fourth and fifth fingers in measure 26.
Starting at measure 31, there is a passage of 32nd notes in the right hand. They may look daunting, but because the tempo of the piece is quite slow, they don’t necessarily have to be played at a very fast tempo.
The main challenge here is to keep the notes even and at the same tempo throughout the passage. It is important not to rush just because the notes ‘seem’ faster. Shortly after the notes slow into a slight ritardando as the piece returns to the slower, more expressive theme from section A.
After returning to the A section, the piece goes on to the C section.
The left hand has several repeating notes while the right hand plays a series of intervals and chords that build and release tension over the course of 16 measures. The left hand ostinato pauses briefly for two measures before the right hand launches into a dramatic A minor arpeggio passage with a turn around played in triplets, which once at its peak then descends chromatically until it reaches the familiar D#-E motif from the A section.
The A section is then repeated one last time before ending solidly on a bass A octave in the left hand and higher A in the right hand.
To learn the whole piece, it might take a beginner up to two months or more to fully master it. But for more intermediate pianists, it is possible to learn the piece in a month or less with careful note-reading and consistent practice.
Is Fur Elise or Moonlight Sonata Easier for a Beginner?
For the purpose of this assessment, we will assume that “Moonlight Sonata” refers to only first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, which contains slow, melancholy melody commonly associated with the title “Moonlight Sona.” It can be said with some objectivity that Fur Elise is an easier piece to learn and play. The Moonlight Sonata is longer, approximately 4-5 pages long, depending on the formatting. Fur Elise is approximately 3 pages long. In addition, Fur Elise is in the key of A minor, while the Moonlight Sonata is in the key of C# Minor, which has four sharps in the key signature, and may be slightly more difficult for early intermediate pianists to decode. While there are a lot of repeating patterns in the Moonlight Sonata, there is more unique material to learn than in Fur Elise. In addition, Moonlight Sonata is generally a more emotionally demanding piece than Fur Elise and requires a sense of musical maturity. If you are an intermediate pianist looking for a popular classical piece that you can learn in 1-2 months, then Fur Elise is a great repertoire option. But if you are willing to spend a bit more time learning something with the stature of the Moonlight Sonata, it is definitely worth the effort to learn.
Fur Elise may be technically challenging for beginners, but it is certainly accessible for intermediate level pianists and even beginners with an accelerated learning pace. The fact that it is such a popular piece of classical music often gives students a head start with learning the melody since it is likely already familiar to them. If you are able to learn and play Fur Elise, you are likely ready to learn other pieces in grade 5. You can feel confident knowing that you can play at an intermediate level and that you are now familiar with one of the most renowned pieces ever written for piano.