Beethoven Symphony No. 10
Beethoven X is an AI project started in 2019 in an attempt to turn the sketches of Beethoven's symphony no 10, into a fully orchestrated piece. the piece has been completed in 2021 and the Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn has performed it.
It is not the first time that AI tries to finish an unfinished symphony. Previously Shubert's unfinished symphony, number 8, has been completed by Huawei AI technology.
The concept of an AI writing a piece of music is something new and very exciting, and besides the different original music pieces written by AIs, there have been attempts to imitate some of the greatest composers in history. But has it been successful?
Beethoven's progress in writing music
Yes, there have been some sketches from Beethoven's symphony no 10 found in his apartment after his death. but when we look closer at Beethoven's life, we clearly see the progress Beethoven has from the first sketches of his works to the final piece.
Take his Symphony No. 5 for instance. Leonard Bernstein fully reviews some of the tests Beethoven has done on his manuscript for this piece. and in time he changed and changed the piece until he got to what he wanted, a strong theme that everyone knows today.
Keep in mind that what Bernstein is talking about here, is the final manuscript of Beethoven's work, imagine how much change has this piece gone through from the first sketches.
This is a standard process for Beethoven, as a matter of fact, it's almost every composer's way of writing music. they write and scratch and rewrite and change until they get to what they want. with some exceptions like Mozart, all composers do the same thing.
So to have the first sketches of a symphony from an innovative composer like Beethoven is not actually a big deal. In the end, AI might be able to guess how those sketches would sound if exactly those sketches would turn into a symphony, but to know how much they would have changed before becoming a full symphony, is merely impossible.
The Symphony No. 10 by Beethoven
The symphony is now recorded and the last two movements are available to listen to on Youtube.
You can love or hate this piece, that's up to you. the main question is: is it Beethoven?
I confess that this piece sounds a lot like Beethoven's symphonies. But that's where it goes wrong. Beethoven's symphonies don't sound like each other, each of them is innovative and progressive for their time. Ironically, the AI could not sound like Beethoven by being too much like him, it is all because of the way AI works.
How the AI works
The way any AI in any field works is that a developer starts feeding the AI with a lot of data. for example, you can start giving a lot of pictures of smiling people. after the AI studies hundreds of thousands of these pictures it starts to recognize the smile.
The same structure happens for the music AI too. developers start analyzing the music of Beethoven in all aspects and feed the AI with as much data as possible. this way the AI becomes an expert on Beethoven's music. now they give the AI just a bit of information from the sketches left behind and let the AI guess what would these notes turn into if Beethoven would write them as a symphony.
Here's where everything goes wrong, the AI can only guess Beethoven's composition style until his death. But if he would live longer to actually write his tenth symphony, many things would have changed in his style.
Basically, Symphony No.10 is a combination of Beethoven's first nine symphonies. and it is the most obvious thing for any musician and Beethoven fan that if he would actually write the tenth symphony himself, it would not sound like a combination of the previous symphonies, and it would be a new piece with new ideas. something that the AI version absolutely is not.
The AI composer
It is inevitable that technology will progress in the future, and there is no doubt that there will be AI composers actually working professionally on their own besides helping human composers.
But for now, the commercial side of the AI musician is much bolder than the actual music of an AI. companies try to use their technology and create anything with a commercial value to attract users for their products. Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, Van Gogh, Picasso, and many other artists, have huge commercial value, and writing an AI that can even partially create an art form close to one of these big names is enough for a company to attract a big number of new users.
I might have sounded a bit harsh, but that was not my intention, and I was just trying to show the real side of these commercial products.
It does not mean that I did not enjoy listening to the Beethoven X project. this is after all a piece based on Beethoven's music and has been reviewed by many composers, historians, and conductors to make sure it sounds as good as it can.
AI technology is taking its first steps and I believe in the near future we will see and hear a lot of art forms created by AI. Maybe we will even be able to reincarnate great artists as some kind of AI and listen to Mahler's actual new symphony someday. But it is safe to say that today is not that day yet.
If the technology gets to a point that can create an AI which thinks and feels exactly like Beethoven, it won't be just his Symphony No. 10 that we will be able to listen to, then we will be able to listen to Beethoven's music the way he would compose if he was alive today, or Beethoven's music if he was living in ancient Greece and many other variations.
It will probably be much harder to be an independent musician in that case. competing to attract the audience with a dead Mozart is hard enough, I can't imagine how people would listen to an unkwon composer's music while they could listen to Mozart's new releases.