Beethoven’s 10th Symphony

Apparently this blog is now about me reading random articles on the internet and then going to Germany because of them. Luckily it’s not always about getting Covid while I’m there.

This time around I read an incredible article about how AI researchers and music experts were using AI to complete Beethoven’s unfinished 10th symphony.

Beethoven died while working on his 10th symphony, and wasn’t working on it sequentially. He had some themes and excerpts written down, so one could get a general idea of what he had in mind, but that was about it.

So they taught AI how to “think” like Beethoven and take those notes and develop them into a full symphony. The article had a short clip from one of the movements and it sounded great and very Beethoveny (to my totally amateur ear).

The premiere (and possibly only performance ever) was to take place in less than a week in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven’s hometown. I got myself worked into a lather thinking about how much I missed symphony performances, and how this was the closest I was likely to ever get to seeing a real Beethoven premiere.

This time I was determined not to make the mistake of showing up without a ticket, so I went to the site to buy one in advance… and it was sold out. Further research showed that it had been sold out months in advance.

Luckily for me I had been in touch with a reader from Germany, Jonas. I asked if he had any idea if there was some way I could get a ticket, maybe on local classifieds or something. By the next morning he had found and bought two tickets as a gift! Incredible!

A few days later I flew to Frankfurt, took a train to Bonn, walked around on the banks of the Rhine, checked into my hotel, took a nap, and headed out to the concert.

It was incredible! I have no idea how someone actually knowledgeable on classical music or Beethoven would evaluate it, but I would have never guessed in a million years it wasn’t Beethoven. They only had enough source material to complete two movements, which was a little bit disappointing, but afterwards they played his 8th Symphony. I think they chose it because it had some stylistic similarities.

I thought a lot later about what I had actually heard. It felt like a Heisenburge-esque situation where Beethoven could have created his 10th Symphony in infinite different ways, as could the AI. I didn’t hear the same one that Beethoven would have written, but my experience in listening was probably identical.

I can imagine a scenario where AI could study my blog and churn out new blog posts that I would read and think, “oh yeah, that’s my blog”. What a weird an interesting world we live in.

The next morning I took a series of trains (one of which was delayed to the point that I was within about 60 seconds of missing an essential connection) to the airport to fly to the UK for the first time in over two years. That story next.

You can hear the two movements of the Beethoven X AI on Spotify.

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Photo is a cool Japanese garden in a park on the Rhine. I tried to take photos in the venue, but there isn’t much to see.

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