Bringing Beethoven back

We’ve seen how AI can bring to life people that have never existed, as well as those that certainly have. And we’re familiar with the ridiculous surreal art it can churn out and the sublime Bach-like harmonies it can spin. But what about creating something much more substantial, like a whole symphony? And a Beethoven symphony, at that.

The project started in 2019 …

How a team of musicologists and computer scientists completed Beethoven’s unfinished 10th SymphonyThe Conversation
When Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827, he was three years removed from the completion of his Ninth Symphony, a work heralded by many as his magnum opus. He had started work on his 10th Symphony but, due to deteriorating health, wasn’t able to make much headway: All he left behind were some musical sketches.

Ever since then, Beethoven fans and musicologists have puzzled and lamented over what could have been. His notes teased at some magnificent reward, albeit one that seemed forever out of reach.

Now, thanks to the work of a team of music historians, musicologists, composers and computer scientists, Beethoven’s vision will come to life.

Artificial intelligence to “complete” Beethoven’s tenth symphonyi24News: YouTube

… and earlier this month, they premiered the result.

After more than two centuries, Beethoven’s 10th Symphony has been completed by an AIEuronews
For Werzowa, it was exciting to discover variations of Beethoven’s work each morning, that had been sent overnight by his US colleagues from Rutgers University.

“Because of the time difference, in the morning, I got up early, quite excited and ran to my computer to find hundreds of possibilities which were formulated overnight, well during my night,” he said. “And it was always a beautiful morning occupation, drinking tea and coffee while listening and choosing those Beethoven inspirations”. […]

As for the master computer, no gigantic machine with tons of buttons and keyboards were involved: a simple laptop was used to finish to unfinishable.

“I asked him many times ‘please send me pictures’ and I was so curious, it’s like I imagined like this Star Trek, Star Wars kind of thing, with kilometres of computers,” Werzowa told AP. “He never sent it to me over the two years and finally he did after this whole thing was done. And what he showed me was basically a computer rig which looks like my son’s computer rig so it was actually disappointing: This is it? This made that amazing work?”

And the Beethoven goes on: Bonn premieres ‘new’ 10th symphonyIrish Times
No word on whether London’s Royal Philharmonic Society – who commissioned the symphony in 1817 – ever got its money back from the composer’s estate for services not rendered.

How an AI finished Beethoven’s last symphony and what that means for the future of musicBBC Science Focus Magazine
What has the response been like from musicians and composers? Their response is really mixed. There are people who loved this very much, and love the idea of having an AI that understands music and can help you finish your composition or have you explore different musical ideas.

But on the other side of the spectrum, there are people who just reject even the concept of being able to complete a Beethoven symphony using AI. They are afraid of AI taking their jobs and think that it has nothing to do with this kind of thing.

But enough of all the words — let’s hear the music!

Beethoven X: The AI Project: III Scherzo. Allegro – TrioModern Recordings: YouTube
Modern Recordings / BMG present as a foretaste of the album “Beethoven X – The AI Project” (release: 8.10.) the edit of the 3rd movement “Scherzo. Allegro – Trio” as a classical music video.

That was just a short edit of the third movement. Embedded within this next link is a video of the whole premiere, featuring movements 3 and 4.

World Premiere: Beethoven XMagentaMusic 360
It is done: Shortly before his death, Ludwig van Beethoven began to compose his 10th Symphony, but it remained unfinished. On the 250th birthday of the genius, Deutsche Telekom and an international team of music experts and artificial intelligence experts have dared to try to complete Beethoven’s 10th Symphony with the help of artificial intelligence. On 9 October, the 10th Symphony was premiered in Bonn by the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn under the direction of Dirk Kaftan.

I’m relying on Google Translate for the text of that link. The introductory speeches are in German too, though the little documentary they play that starts 12 minutes in is subtitled and worth a look. The performance itself is 16 minutes in.

It’s also been released on Spotify, together with a recording of the eighth symphony from the premiere.

Beethoven X: The AI ProjectSpotify
Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, Dirk Kaftan, Walter Werzowa 2021

It seems this is not the only version of Beethoven’s 10th symphony. There’s also this one, “realized” by Barry Cooper, plus documentary (ignore that crazy sax intro). But seriously, nothing — not even his fifth — matches his ninth. I mean, come on!

Author: Terry Madeley

Works with student data and enjoys reading about art, data, education and technology.

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