Robot Beethoven?

Using AI to finish Beethoven's 10th Symphony

Illustrated by Jhanvi Pai

Illustrated by Jhanvi Pai

Erin Ma

From self-driving cars to Google’s AlphaGo software, Artificial Intelligence has been making stunning breakthroughs in the past few years. Yet, on December 16th, AI computers were given a task that was still proved difficult even with current technology: finishing Beethoven’s 10th symphony.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, a renowned classical composer, was best known for his 9th symphony which contained the famous theme “Ode to Joy.” It was known that Beethoven was composing a 10th symphony alongside his 9th but it was left unfinished because of his death. Only a few musical sketches and notes were left behind. Now, in a project headed by Matthias Roder, director of the Karajan Institute in Salzburg, and funded by Deutsche Telekom, a group of musicians and scientists are hoping to complete this symphony using AI for the composer’s 250th anniversary of his birth. Important figures of this project include Robert Levin, a musicologist at Harvard, and Ahmed Elgammal, an Artificial Intelligence specialist at Rutgers.

The team is attempting to accomplish this task by feeding computer software Beethoven’s musical sketches along with other examples of his work as well as the works of many other artists in the contemporary period such as Hummel, Mozart, and Hayden. This method “can figure out how Beethoven works with sketches and where he goes from there,” says Christine Siegert, a musician that is actively involved in the project. Although aspects such as character or emotion can be learned by current AI, an algorithm can recognize patterns and probabilities through the information it’s fed and arrange the existing musical fragments in a coherent way. Human assistance will also be provided in order to tweak certain areas of the computer’s composition so that it can fit more with Beethoven’s style.

Because of the enormous magnitude of this project, many musicians and composers are left skeptical of the computer’s work. Barry Cooper, a British composer, states that, “It did not sound remotely like a convincing reconstruction of what Beethoven intended” and insisted that a lot more progress is needed before the final product is able to be performed. Even Siegert claims that, “The quality of genius cannot be fully replicated.”

Even despite these criticisms, the team has been working tirelessly towards their goal and they have reported that the algorithm was progressing positively. “The algorithm is unpredictable, it surprises us everyday…We’re pleased that it’s making such big strides” reported Roder.

The finished piece is set to be performed in Bonn, the city where Beethoven was born, on April 28th 2020 and it will be orchestrated by a professional composer and a full symphony. It will be largely composed by the algorithm and Beethoven’s sketches will only take up about 30 measures in the entire symphony. Although this is not the first AI finished symphony, (Schubert’s 8th symphony was finished in February 2019 by the technology at Huawei), the completion of this symphony will still be an impressive accomplishment and a great advancement for Artificial Intelligence. According to Roder, “No machine has been able to do this for so long.”

 

 

Works Cited
Crossland, David. “Robots Pitch in to Finish Beethoven’s Symphony No 10.” World | The Times, The Times, 20 Dec. 2019,, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/robots-to-complete-beethovens-unfinished-10th-symphony-xn6fgthn0.
Deutsche Welle. “How a Computer Can Complete Beethoven’s Unfinished Symphony: DW: 11.12.2019.” DW.COM, https://www.dw.com/en/how-a-computer-can-complete-beethovens-unfinished-symphony/a-51620371.
Huggler, Justin. “Computer Is Set to Complete Beethoven’s Unfinished Symphony.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 13 Dec. 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/13/computer-set-complete-beethovens-unfinished-symphony/.
Roberts, Maddy Shaw. “Beethoven’s Unfinished Tenth Symphony to Be Completed by Artificial Intelligence.” Classic FM, Classic FM, 16 Dec. 2019, https://www.classicfm.com/composers/beethoven/news/computer-completes-unfinished-tenth-symphony/.