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Chances are you have heard the Elvira Madigan by Mozart. But have you ever wondered how it got its name?

The so-called Elvira Madigan is the second movement from Mozart’s 21st piano concerto, K467 which was written by Mozart in 1785. It is one of my absolute favorites and one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

In 1867, about 70 years after Mozart’s death, a girl named Hedvig Jensen was born in Flensburg, Germany. Flensburg had been a Danish town until 1864 when the Danish-Prussian war forced Denmark to surrender the two counties of Schleswig and Holstein, and judging from the name she was of Danish descent – Jensen is one of the most common family names in Denmark. Also, if she had been German, her first name would have been spelled Hedwig. Certainly everybody in Denmark considers her to be Danish. 🙂

Hedvig was out of a circus family. After the death of her father and her mother’s remarriage, her stepfather trained her as a tightrope dancer and a trick rider. Her artist’s name was Elvira Madigan.

Elvira Madigan aka. Hedvig Jensen

In 1888 or 1889, while touring in Sweden, she met Lieutenant Sixten Sparre of the Swedish dragoons, who was some 13 years older than her, married and had two children. Nonetheless they fell in love and eloped.

Since he was now a deserter from the Swedish army, they fled to Denmark where they ended up on the island of Tåsinge, south of Fyn (Funen). Here they ran out of money. With no prospects of getting a paid job, and without support from either’s family, in the end they committing suicide together. A very tragic story, and of course very befitting for a movie.

Which explains how a piece of music written in 1785 by a composer who died in 1791 can be named after a woman who lived some 70 years later.

In 1967 the Swedish director Bo Widerberg made a movie based on Madigan’s and Sparre’s brief affair and tragic end. It is not the only movie based on their elopement, but it is the best known, and it uses Mozart’s music as its theme. And of course helped immortalize the name of Elvira Madigan. Since then, Mozart’s andante has been known as the Elvira Madigan even to many people outside Denmark and Sweden who have never seen the movie and often don’t know who Elvira Madigan was.

Elvira Madigan and Sixten Sparre are buried together on Tåsinge, near the site where they ended their lives together.