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 1810. 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 called herself "Betty" too), had been a friend of Beethoven's since 1808. In the meantime the Austrian musicologist Michael Lorenz has shown that Rudolf Schachner, who in 1851 inherited Therese von Droßdik's musical scores, was the illegitimate son of Babette Bredl (who in 1865 let Nohl copy the autograph in her possession). Thus the autograph must have come to Babette Bredl from Therese von Droßdik's estate and Kopitz's hypothesis is refuted.
The pianist and musicologist Luca Chiantore argued in his doctoral thesis and his recent book "Beethoven al pianothat 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.