Rebarring Für Elise

Rick Cohn’s rhythmic analysis of Beethoven’s “Für Elise” (recording the bottom) blew my mind in 2014 when I was a budding theorist, and it still does today. In a very concrete way, it showed the wealth of topics on rhythm and meter beyond the mere categorization of time signatures in music theory curriculums.

A tricky transition in “Für Elise”

Despite “Für Elise” being a relatively easy piece that many pianists have played, Cohn found recordings where the transition back to the A’ section stumps the best of pianists.

Looking at the score (above), it’s easy to see how one could get lost among the many E’s and D#’s. My rebarring (below) based on Cohn’s analysis puts the tricky transition into context. Of course, time signatures were never used in this way, especially during Beethoven’s time, but I find it a great visual aid nonetheless.

My alternative barring based on Cohn’s analysis.

Starting from the notated 3/8, the triple meter gradually expands in duration, ultimately arriving at 3/2. In this imaginary 3/2 bar, each half-note beat has a different function.

  • The first half-note beat consists of rising E’s.
  • The highest E starts the second half-note beat, and it is followed by the dreaded trill.
  • The third beat get back to the original “upbeat” on the third half note.

In retrospect, the prolonged upbeat should have been a clue that things are not always as they seem, and I’m still astonished I knew this piece for so long without noticing its nuanced rhythmic trajectory.