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Für Elise

by Tad Smith

It's funny that, for all the concerti, symphonies, and overtures written by Beethoven I can recognize, I can't for the life of me remember how "Für Elise" goes. After all, it's a memorable little ditty, as well-known as any other of Ludwig van's famed passages, excluding I suppose fate knocking at the door to the Fifth. For your ordinary dabbler in classical music, it might be acceptable to forget this or that composition, but I'm not your ordinary dabbler. Although I'll admit I'm a bit weak on the performing side, I've listened to enough recordings and public radio broadcasts, even read enough scores, to consider myself something approaching on expert in the field of Beethoven. As an example, I can whistle the entire Symphony Number Eight, which is not exactly elevator-music fare.

I guess it's been a bit slack on my part, having met Elise, not to at least go back and remind myself how "Für Elise" goes. But both my stereo speakers at home are cracked, so I'm restricted to what I can listen to, to what the radio in my office chooses to broadcast. It's kind of like Beethoven himself, being unable to hear music at home.

Then again, I'm more into works of a symphonic nature than those prescribed for the keyboard. I guess you could say the piano is not my forte.

I'm what you would call between marriages, although I prefer to think of it as being between divorces. My next divorce will be from Elise.

It's one of the fortunate aspects of modern life, divorce. It provides us with a rare form of commitment. Anybody can get married. In my case, marriage is just one of those experiments I invariably get myself involved in. Ah, but divorce. Once you realize things aren't going to work out, it takes a major commitment to get divorced. You've got to wait a year, and you can't go sneaking to bed together every once in awhile, at least, not if you've got any morals. This one-year waiting period for a divorce makes it easier to end things, too. I tried once just having a girlfriend, you know, living together without actually getting married. It didn't work. When it was beginning to become obvious that we weren't exactly right for each other, we didn't have to commit to getting a divorce, so it took twice as long to actually break it off.

There was another drawback to that kind of relationship. When you decide to get divorced, the year-long separation period allows you a little time to work out all the emotional problems associated with separating. It also makes it impossible to get married again for another year. That's how I got hooked up with Elise in the first place. I was emotionally vulnerable. I was easy pickings. And I didn't have the excuse of being married to keep me from doing it again.

I was working for an express courier service, delivering letters and packages to various business firms in the area. One day I went into this office and the boss was chewing out her secretary. The boss wasn't a bad looker, and I never would have guessed she was five years older than me except for the lines on her hands and some around her eyes. She kind of broke her tirade in mid stride when I walked in. At first I figured she was embarrassed to be airing her dirty linen in public, as it were, but then I noticed how she was giving me the up-and-down eye. I wasn't particularly surprised when I got a call the next afternoon to pick up a package at her office, after five o'clock, so that when I got there she was the only one left at work, and, well, I'm easy. She took me right there in her office, pushing me down on top of her desk and just climbing on.

Things went on like that for a short time, with me coming by her office after work and getting jumped. Then we started going out, and it wasn't too long before we started talking about marriage. I started to say, "I can't get married yet, my divorce isn't final," and then I realized the error of my ways. I determined right then and there I would not live with a woman again without marrying her. So Elise and I got married.

I already knew a lot of Elise's annoying characteristics before we got married. She likes to talk too much, for one thing, and it's always about how wonderful and how smart and how considerate she is. She liked to talk about the work she'd done with the alcohol rehabilitation program, while I would be killing a six pack of beer. Or I'd be settling into a television cop show and she'd start bragging about how she'd been valedictorian of her high school class and how mad it made the guy who thought he was the smartest one in the class.

What was more annoying, however, was when she decided to reform me. It wasn't doing her ego any good being married to a delivery boy, so she bought me a couple of suits and got me an office job. If you think it's easy to figure out a marriage ain't right, well, that's nothing compared to realizing you don't like being tied to a desk. The one redeeming quality of the job was having lunch and flirting with all the women. And that set none to well with Elise.

Elise told me when we first met she was the jealous type. I was too much concerned with the strength of her thighs to pay attention to any clues about the lack of strength of her character, so it wasn't until later on that it occurred to me what kind of a problem jealousy could be.

When she started yelling at me for leaving my shoes in the living room, I figured I'd had about enough.

So I quit the job at the office and went back to delivering ten-dollar letters. That royally irked Elise, and I thought maybe I'd get my walking papers. But while she was mad at me about my lack of ambition, she was mollified by the curtailment of my contact with the other women in the office.

Let me tell you something about Beethoven. Beethoven was an arrogant, nearly unapproachable little brat. Sure, he was a genius, but his manner in dealing with society left something to be desired. Lucky for him, big egos attract weak friends. Beethoven had this friend, an inventor, named Maelzel. Maelzel loved Beethoven; he looked after him; he invented things for him. Maelzel made Beethoven some ear trumpets so he could try to hear. Maelzel invented a metronome. Maelzel even invented a thing like a synthesizer for Beethoven's composition, "Wellington's Victory." For all his obsequious efforts, Maelzel earned little from Beethoven except contempt and derision; but Beethoven probably loved him a bit, too.

Beethoven did not reserve his contempt for Maelzel. Beethoven felt contempt for humanity in general. I suspect losing his hearing did not exactly help matters. I also suspect Beethoven's disillusionment with Napolean hurt, too, since it meant the loss of a hero.

Beethoven's contempt for humanity was affirmed by society's acceptance of "Wellington's Victory" as a great musical accomplishment. Compared to the serious and innovative work Beethoven had done, "Wellington's Victory" was, especially in the composer's eyes, a piece of trash.

So imagine this scenario: Ludwig van has just completed writing "Wellington's Victory," along with a couple of bona fide masterpiece symphonies, and he takes them on the road. I'm not sure if they even had trains yet, but the way I imagine it is it was like a whistle-stop rock concert tour, with Ludwig van traveling around Germany with his first-chair musicians, picking up players from the local communities to fill out the orchestra, and getting the fame he surely deserved by conducting a musical recreation of Wellington defeating Napolean at Waterloo, before packed concert halls, Maelzel's synthesizer popping the gunshots like so many firecrackers.

Hang onto this image, I'll get back to it.

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