Artificial intelligence is writing the end of Beethoven's unfinished symphony

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By Shea Lawrence
Artificial intelligence is writing the end of Beethoven's unfinished symphony

In the run-up to Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday, a team of musicologists and programmers is using artificial intelligence to complete the composer's unfinished tenth symphony.

The piece was started by Beethoven alongside his famous ninth, which includes the well-known Ode To Joy. 

But by the time the German composer died in 1827, there were only a few notes and drafts of the composition.

The experiment risks failing to do justice to the beloved German composer. Tthe team said the first few months yielded results that sounded mechanical and repetitive. 

But now the project leader, Matthias Roeder, from the Herbert von Karajan Institute, insists the AI's latest compositions are more promising.

"An AI system learns an unbelievable amount of notes in an extremely short time," said Roeder. "And the first results are a bit like with people, you say 'hmm, maybe it's not so great'. But it keeps going and, at some point, the system really surprises you. And that happened the first time a few weeks ago. We're pleased that it's making such big strides."

The group is in the process of training an algorithm that will produce a completed symphony. They're doing this by playing snippets of Beethoven's work and leaving the computer to improvise the rest of it. Afterwards, they correct the improvisation so it fits with the composer's style.

Similar projects have been undertaken before. Schubert's eighth symphony was finished using AI developed by Huawei. It received mixed reviews.

The final result of the project will be performed by a full orchestra on 28 April next year in Bonn as part of a series of celebrations of Beethoven's work.

The year of celebrations begins on December 16th with the opening of his home in Bonn as a museum after renovation.