What just happened? Artificial intelligence completed Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony – or at least, what that piece of music might have looked like if he had finished it. A world premiere of music will take place on October 9, 2021.
In 1817, the Royal Philharmonic Society of London commissioned Ludwig Von Beethoven to compose his ninth and tenth symphonies. He finished the Ninth Symphony, which concludes the fourth movement with the all too familiar “Ode to Joy” (below). Due to his declining health and his death in 1927, he never completed his Tenth Symphony. Only a few scribbled musical sketches remain of this work.
The Karajan Institute has partnered with a group of scientists from AI startup Playform led by Ahmed Elgammal. The team spent two years training an AI model using Beethoven’s complete works, the Tenth Symphony sketches he left behind, and what is known about his methods of music composition.
Elgammal called on Walter Werzowa, the mind behind Intel’s bang jingle, to merge what Beethoven left behind with the music built by AI. Computer music expert Mark Gotham led efforts to transcribe centuries-old sketches and process Beethoven’s body of work to train machine learning algorithms. Harvard musicologist Robert Levin, who had previously performed several musical compositions by Mozart and Bach, also contributed to the project.
“In a large room with a piano, a blackboard and a stack of Beethoven sketchbooks covering most of his known works, we explained how fragments could be made into a complete piece of music and how AI could help solve this puzzle, while staying true to Beethoven’s process and vision, ”Elgammal said.
The human side of the project required careful study of the sketches for the Tenth Symphony to determine what Beethoven’s intentions for the piece were. Using the composer’s completed works as a model, they set out to determine which of Beethoven’s incomplete musical phrases belonged to which of the four movements of the symphony.
The task of AI was to figure out how to fill in the gaps. You had to take very short musical phrases of just a few notes and develop them into longer, more elaborate structures. He did this by learning how Beethoven constructed his Fifth Symphony on a simple four-note motif. He also had to understand the musical form of each phrase developed – scherzo, trio or fugue – to make sure it followed the correct movement.
As the project progressed, IT scientists discovered that AI should be responsible for much more.
“The to-do list grew – we had to teach the AI to take a melodic line and harmonize it,” Elgammal said. “The AI had to learn to connect two sections of music. And we realized that the AI had to be able to compose a coda, which is a segment that brings a section of a piece of music to its conclusion.”
He also had to figure out which instruments would play which parts, and he had to do all of this in a way the great composer could have done.
The team held their first test in front of journalists and, more importantly, music academics and Beethoven experts. He asked them to see if they could figure out where the composer’s job ended, and the AI continued. Music experts were puzzled and unable to say which parts had been composed by the AI.
Elgammal performed a second test in front of experts, some of whom were familiar with the sketches for Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony. Only those who had “intimate knowledge” of incomplete works were able to choose the parts built by the AI. The test was enough to conclude that the algorithms had done a good enough job of completing Beethoven’s tenth.
Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony will be released to the public on October 10 after its premiere in Bonn, Germany. You can get a taste of how well the part AI was built from this short selection provided by Smithsonian Magazine.
Image credit: Perrant (CC BY-SA 3.0)
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