The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer's death. The discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, affirmed that the original autographed manuscript was dated 27 April. This manuscript has been lost.
It is not certain who "Elise" was. Max Unger suggested that Ludwig Nohl may have transcribed the title incorrectly and the original work may have been named "Für Therese", a reference to Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza (1792–1851). She was a friend and student of Beethoven's to whom he proposed in 1810, though she turned him down to marry the Austrian nobleman and state official Wilhelm von Droßdik in 1816. According to a recent study by Klaus Martin Kopitz, there is flimsy evidence that the piece was written for the German soprano singer Elisabeth Röckel (1793–1883), later the wife of Johann Nepomuk Hummel. "Elise", as she was called by a parish priest (she always called herself "Betty"), had been a friend of Beethoven's since 1808. In the meantime it has been proven that Rudolf Schachner, who in 1851 inherited Therese von Droßdik's musical scores, was a relative of Babette Bredl who in 1865 let Nohl copy the autograph in her possession. Thus Kopitz's hypothesis is definitely refuted.
The pianist and musicologist Luca Chiantore argued in his doctoral thesis and his recent book "Beethoven al piano" that Beethoven might not have been the person who gave the piece the form that we know today. Chiantore suggested that the original signed manuscript, upon which Ludwig Nohl claimed to base his transcription, may never have existed. On the other hand, the musicologist Barry Cooper stated, in a 1984 essay in the Musical Times, that one of two surviving sketches closely resembles the published version.
The time signature for the piece is 3/8. It begins with a right-hand theme in A minor, marked poco moto and accompanied by arpeggios in the left hand. The harmonies used are A minor and E major. The next section moves to the relative major, using the chords C major and G major. A lighter section follows, beginning in F Major, it consists of a similar texture to the first theme. It plays a right hand melody over left hand arpeggio's. It then modulates to a 32nd note idea in C major before returning to an un editied A section. Next, the piece moves into an agitated D minor theme set over a pedal point on A, before moving into a rapid ascending A minor arpeggio before beginnging a chromatic descent and returning to the original theme. The piece ends in its starting key of A minor with an authentic cadence. Though called a bagatelle, the piece is in rondo form. The structure is A - B - A - C -A. The first theme is not techinally difficult and is often taught alone as it provides a good basic exercise for piano pedalling technique. However, much greater technique is required for the B section as well as the rapid rising A minor figure in the C section.
The letters that spell Elise can be decoded as the first three notes of the piece. Because an E♭ is called an Es in German and is pronounced as "S", that makes E-(L)-(I)-S-E: E-(L)-(I)-E♭-E, which by enharmonic equivalents sounds the same as E-(L)-(I)-D♯-E. Furthermore, since "Dis" is the pronunciation of D♯, if the first several notes of the composition are sung with note names, it becomes E-Dis-E-Dis-E (...), creating a word that, as a mondegreen, sounds significantly similar to the name "Elise" (the "L" sound and "D" sound are alveolar consonants).
^ Dorothy de Val, The Cambridge companion to the piano, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 131, ISBN 9780521479868, "Beethoven is here [in the 1892 Repertory of select pianoforte works] only by virtue of 'Für Elise', but there is a better representation of later composers such as Schubert ... , Chopin ... , Schumann ... and some Liszt."
^ Morton Manus, Alfred's Basic Adult All-In-One Piano Course, Book 3, New York: Alfred publishing, p. 132, ISBN 9780739000687
^Max Unger, translated by Theodore Baker, "Beethoven and Therese von Malfatti," The Musical Quarterly 11, no. 1 (1925): 63–72.
^ Michael Lorenz: "Baronin Droßdik und die verschneyten Nachtigallen. Biographische Anmerkungen zu einem Schubert-Dokument", Schubert durch die Brille 26, (Tutzing: Schneider, 2001), pp. 47–88.
^ Klaus Martin Kopitz: `Beethoven, Elisabeth Röckel und das Albumblatt „Für Elise“, Köln: Dohr, 2010, ISBN 9783936655872.
^ Luca Chiantore: Beethoven al piano. Barcelona: Nortesur, 2010, p. 333-360, ISBN 9788493735760