For over 100 years you didn’t even know that it existed …
Until shortly before his death Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) worked on his last great work – the 10th Symphony. But it remained with fragments and sketches. It was only discovered around 40 years ago in the legacy of the music genius.
Now the work has been completed with the help of a computer program with artificial intelligence. The 10th symphony will be premiered on October 9th at the Telekom Forum in Bonn, played by the Beethoven Orchestra under the direction of General Music Director Dirk Kaftan. Anyone interested can watch the performance from 7 p.m. via the Internet in a free live stream on the site Magenta-musik-360.de or on MagentaTV (channel #DabeiTV).
Until the 1980s there was no reliable evidence that Beethoven had even worked on another, tenth symphony before he died of cirrhosis at the age of 56. But then fragments of compositions and sketches of his ideas were found in Beethoven’s estate.
In June 2019 the idea arose to use the latest computer technology to complete these fragments. To this end, Deutsche Telekom put together a team of international experts: musicologists, composers, music computer scientists and experts in artificial intelligence.
Where did the knowledge of the 10th Symphony come from?
The sketches and fragments the team worked with were found in Beethoven’s notes. “He always had a small music book in his coat pocket,” says Matthias Röder, head of the Karajan Institute in Salzburg and scientific director of the Beethoven project at Telekom. The composer came up with ideas for his music on walks and wrote them down straight away.
“At home, he sat at his desk and translated the ideas into larger books. These sketchbooks were his treasure and his compositional laboratory. When we look into these sketchbooks, it’s like looking into Beethoven’s musical brain, ”says Röder.
How did the AI learn the Beethoven style?
How the finished 10th symphony by Beethoven might have sounded was calculated using artificial intelligence (AI) software – a program that imitates a person’s decisions. In order to be able to compose as Beethoven would have done, the software first had to get to know the composer’s work.
“We gave the AI the music of Beethoven and contemporaries and so it learned to construct melodies in the style of the time and specifically like Beethoven,” explains Röder in an interview with BILD.
In a second step, the team then used the AI to continue Beethoven’s sketches. Overnight, the software calculated how the existing melodies could continue and provided 200 or 300 different variants. “The team of experts then looked through this variety of possibilities and decided to transfer one or the other position into the whole”, says Röder.
How much Beethoven is in the finished work?
Work on the 10th Symphony was gradual and took several months, as only individual sections of the work were calculated. If, for example, there was no transition between two parts of the symphony, the AI was tried again to link the two parts in the style of Beethoven.
“In the symphony you now hear about ten to 15 percent of the time material that comes directly from Beethoven’s sketches and the rest is composed by the AI,” says Röder.
The work was thus created in a “combination of human and machine creativity”, as Röder emphasizes. “An AI can compose in the style that it has learned. It gets exciting when you use AI as a tool, as we did in our project. With technology you can do things that couldn’t have been before. “
“Generated in the style of Beethoven”
Does the result sound like Beethoven completed his work himself? “The result that we have may sound surprising to many ears, because it does not carry on Beethoven’s bombastic late style, which we know from the 9th Symphony, but opens a new chapter,” says Röder.
The reason: Beethoven referred back to his earlier works very strongly in his sketches and also planned the 10th symphony as an alternative to the 9th symphony. “But it is definitely composed in a style that Beethoven also composed. So it is music generated in the style of Beethoven. “
Album available October 8th
The project was actually supposed to be completed for Beethoven’s 250th birthday last year, but the premiere planned for April 2020 had to be postponed due to the corona pandemic.
Those who would like to hear the composition before the premiere can buy, stream or download the album “Beethoven X – The AI Project” from October 8th. On October 27, the 10th symphony will also be performed in the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.