Ahead of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birthday in 2020, a team of musicologists and programmers are racing to complete his tenth and final note which was left incomplete before his death in 1827. As per records, Beethoven began working on the Tenth Symphony alongside his Ninth, which includes the world-famous “Ode To Joy”. But he quickly gave up on the Tenth, leaving only a few notes and drafts before his death.
Christine Siegert, head of archives at Beethoven House in the composer’s hometown of Bonn told the media that they have made quite impressive progress in developing AI to produce the music yet even the computer has a lot to learn. Speaking of whether the original composer, Beethoven would have approved of the attempts, Siegert said she was “convinced” that Beethoven would have supported since he too was an innovator of his time. Citing his compositions for the panharmonicon, a type of organ that reproduces the sounds of wind and percussion instruments, she insisted the work would not affect his legacy because it would never be regarded as part of his oeuvre.
Dirk Kaftan, conductor of the Beethoven Orchestra, which will perform the piece told the media that the final result of the project will be performed by a full orchestra on April 28 next year in Bonn. The performance will be a completely new territory and the musicians are in two minds about it, he added.
The project uses machine-learning software in all of Beethoven’s work and is now composing possible continuations of the symphony in the composer’s style. With this, Deutsche Telekom, the project's sponsor, hopes to use the findings to develop technology such as voice recognition. Yet the first results a few months ago were seen as too mechanical and repetitive but the latest AI compositions have been more promising. Barry Cooper, a British composer, and musicologist who himself wrote a hypothetical first movement for the Tenth Symphony in 1988 expressed doubt. Cooper, a professor at the University of Manchester and the author of several works on Beethoven told the media that he listened to a short excerpt that has been created. It did not sound remotely like a convincing reconstruction of what Beethoven intended, he asserted. Yet there was scope for improvement. There is, however, the scope for improvement with further work.
In any performance of Beethoven’s music, there is a risk of distorting his intentions, Cooper warned.
On the other hand, critics of the project are concerned about protecting Beethoven’s legacy. The musician is so important to their nation that the “national duty” to prepare for the anniversary was even written into a right-left coalition agreement to form a government six years ago. Celebrations officially begin on December 16 this year, believed to be his 249th birthday. Several insights including the notebooks he used to communicate after going deaf in 1801 — 26 years before his death were presented at a press preview on Friday at the Beethoven House Museum in his native Bonn following a renovation.