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How AI is adding the final notes to German composer’s Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony

A few notes scribbled in his notebook are all that German composer Ludwig van Beethoven left of his Tenth Symphony before his death in 1827.

How AI is adding the final notes to German composer's Beethoven's Tenth Symphony
A painting of Beethoven at unupcoming exhibition in Bonn. Photo: DPA

 

Now, a team of musicologists and programmers is racing to complete a version of the piece using artificial intelligence, ahead of the 250th anniversary of his birth next year.

“The progress has been impressive, even if the computer still has a lot to learn,” said Christine Siegert, head of archives at Beethoven House in the composer's hometown of Bonn.

Siegert said she was “convinced” that Beethoven would have approved since he too was an innovator at the time, citing his compositions for the panharmonicon — a type of organ that reproduces the sounds of wind and percussion instruments.

READ ALSO: 10 fascinating facts about Beethoven to celebrate his birthday

And she insisted the work would not affect his legacy because it would never be regarded as part of his oeuvre.

The final result of the project will be performed by a full orchestra on April 28th next year in Bonn, a centrepiece of celebrations for a composer who defined the romantic era of classical music.

Beethoven, Germany's most famous musical figure, is so loved in his homeland that a duty to prepare for the anniversary was written into the governing coalition's agreement in 2013.

The year of celebrations begins on December 16 — believed to be his 249th birthday — with the opening of his home in Bonn as a museum after extensive renovation.

A statue of Beethoven in Bonn. Photo: DPA

'Scope for improvement'

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 by the time he died aged 57.

In the project, machine-learning software has been fed all of Beethoven's work and is now composing possible continuations of the symphony in the composer's style.

Deutsche Telekom, which is sponsoring the project, hopes to use the findings to develop technology such as voice recognition.

The team said 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, was more doubtful.

“I listened to a short excerpt that has been created. It did not sound remotely like a convincing reconstruction of what Beethoven intended,” said Cooper, a professor at the University of Manchester and the author of several works on Beethoven.

“There is, however, scope for improvement with further work.”

Cooper warned that “in any performance of Beethoven's music, there is a risk of distorting his intentions” but this was particularly the case for the Tenth Symphony as the German composer had left only fragmentary material.

Similar AI experiments based on works by Bach, Mahler and Schubert have been less than impressive.

A project earlier this year to complete Schubert's Eighth Symphony was seen by some reviewers as being closer to an American film soundtrack than the Austrian composer's work.

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CULTURE

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”

READ ALSO:

“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”

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