Michael Lorenz

Die "Enttarnte Elise". Elisabeth Röckels kurze Karriere als Beethovens "Elise"




In June 2009 the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the musicologist Klaus Martin Kopitz had found proof that the singer Elisabeth Röckel, who in 1813 became Johann Nepomuk Hummel's wife, was the woman for whom Beethoven wrote his famous piano piece WoO 59 "Für Elise". Kopitz claimed that her name being given as "Maria Eva Elise" in a baptismal entry of her first son in 1814 proves that "Mrs. Hummel called herself Elise" and since she was known to have been on close terms with Beethoven - who according to Schindler once had intended to marry her - there could be no doubt that the old riddle of the dedicatee's identity had finally been solved. A closer scrutiny of the archival sources, most of which remained unknown to Kopitz, shows however that his hypothesis is based on flimsy evidence and cannot be upheld. Since Frau Hummel was not present at the christening of her son, the names given, "Maria Eva Elise", were the result of an arbitrary decision on the part of the officiating priest. There is not a single document where Frau Hummel called herself "Elise". She called herself "Betty" or "Maria Eva Hummel". The only members of the Röckel family who can be shown to have carried the name Elise are Röckel's mother and her youngest sister Eva Elisabeth (who sometimes also signed herself "Maria"). Ludwig Nohl published Beethoven's piano piece in 1867 by permission of the possessor of the autograph, a certain Babette Bredl in Munich who claimed to have received the music as a gift from Beethoven’s friend Therese von Droßdik née Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza (1792-1851). Kopitz is unable to explain how the autograph that Beethoven supposedly gave to Röckel ended up in Munich. In 1925 Max Unger was the first to come up with the idea that the piece was actually written for Therese Malfatti whom Beethoven in 1810 intended to marry and that the dedication "Für Elise" might actually have read "Für Therese". In Therese von Droßik's will, published by the present writer in 2001, she leaves her piano and all the music in her possession to her friend the composer and pianist Josef Rudolf Schachner (1816-1896), who in later life resided in Munich. On the available evidence it seeemed to the present writer that, the autograph of which is unknown, probably came to Munich with Schachner, and that the latter could well have been a relative of Babette Bredl; and in fact previously unpublished documents in the Bavarian State Archives pertaining to Frau Bredl's estate prove that Babette Bredl (1792-1880) was Schachner's unmarried mother. According to Bredl's will Schachner was her sole heir, which makes it very plausible that the autograph came back to Schachner in 1880. It should therefore be searched for in his musical estate, this consisting of unpublished scores and other musical documents, the whereabouts of which are currently unknown.


© Michael Lorenz 2010. All rights reserved. The article has been published in Bonner Beethoven-Studien, Vol. 9, (Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 2011), 169-90.                                        Upwards