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Thread: Could a great "Beethoven Symphony No. 10" be composed today?

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    Default Could a great "Beethoven Symphony No. 10" be composed today?

    It is definitely possible for a good modern painter to forge a "masterpiece" that art lovers and experts will attribute to a famous artist. For instance a "Supper at Emmaus" was created in 1937, and hailed by some of the world’s foremost art experts as the finest Vermeer they had ever seen. For many years this forgery must have given to art lovers the kind of pleasure that they enjoy when admiring the original paintings of the Dutch master.
    Could a musical "masterpiece" attributable to a famous musician be composed today? For instance could a modern composer create a complete Beethoven Symphony No. 10 (forget the fragments assembled by Cooper). The ground rules for this exercise are:
    (1) It would sound like a great Beethoven composition to a music lover. In fact Beethoven lovers would enjoy it as much as they enjoy their favorite Symphony (No. 7 for me).
    (2) It would be original, its themes would not be copied from existing compositions.

    Why we don't have a "Symphony No. 10 " created in modern times? It would add 10% to the pleasure that we get listening to Symphonies 1-9. I would definitely buy a recording, and enjoy it in a concert hall.

    Possible explanations:
    (A) A talented composer wants to be original. But most music lovers don't care for contemporary "original" classical music. Concert houses would quickly go bankrupt if their repertoires were based on contemporary music. I expect posters of this board to strongly disagree, but that's the real world.
    (B) The space of original tunes is limited. That's way we have Atonality and Serialism. The "Symphony No. 10" would have to copy existing tunes and themes.
    Any comment?

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    Are you asking if it's possible for someone to imitate Beethoven so well that their music sounds just like a 10th symphony, or simply make a piece of his standard of excellence but of any style? As to the former option, that would be very strange to do, but I guess it's possible. That composer would be torn up for lack of creativity however, and maybe even scorned for insulting Beethoven, "who would have made something so much better than that!"
    As to the latter option, I wish.

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    I asking if it's possible for someone to imitate Beethoven so well that their music sounds just like a 10th symphony, but with original tunes. A Beethoven lover would enjoy it as much as he/she enjoys another B. symphony. Why would that be very strange? For me music is pure pleasure, not an intellectual exercise, I don't care where it originates. You seem to imply that the pleasure of No. 10 would be denied to us by conventions in the music community.

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    Speaking for myself, I think that things are better left alone, and such an attempt would not even register on my radar as a "musical curiosity".

    I think that there are plenty of examples, however, of composers attempting to "imitate a style", and for the most part, have had mixed results. The one possible exception I can think of is Villa Lobos and the Bachianas Brasileiras.

    In the case of Beethoven, we have the originals, and the homages/pastiches/arrangements by Mahler, Schumann, Saint-Saens and others.

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    I think my answer to this is summed up by a contest set up to get modern composers to "complete" Schubert's 8th symphony. Only a few composers even did it, and their efforts are totally forgotten, because most people just feel like Schubert's output should be left alone. Sure, someone could try to imitate Beethoven, but we already have Beethoven and so we should just enjoy his music as it is.

    (Someone in a cynical anti-Brahms mood, I might add, would say "someone could try to imitate Beethoven, but we already have Brahms." I, however, am not that person. And so nobody skewers me on this: I like Brahms' music and appreciate his originality.)

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    It largely depends on the intention as well. That Vermeer was a forgery. What you're asking seems to be someone to imitate Beethoven, but not attribute it to him. That would seem pointless.

    If, however, someone managed to write something Beethovenian and forge manuscripts in such a way as to make it appear that Beethoven himself had written a 10th symphony never before discovered, I'm sure we'd all be duped into loving it!

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    I like odd numbers primarily

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    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lazyMusicLover View Post
    (B) The space of original tunes is limited. That's way we have Atonality and Serialism. The "Symphony No. 10" would have to copy existing tunes and themes.
    Any comment?
    The number of possible original tunes that can be created even with a simple pentatonic scale is astronomical. Think about how many different rhythmic permutations can be applied to a series of 5 tones. We aren't limited to 5 tones though, we have as many as the ear can perceive as well as a vast amount of unpitched noises.

    Do you really think atonality and serialism arose because composers 'run out' of original tunes? That had nothing to do with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Argus View Post
    The number of possible original tunes that can be created even with a simple pentatonic scale is astronomical. Think about how many different rhythmic permutations can be applied to a series of 5 tones. We aren't limited to 5 tones though, we have as many as the ear can perceive as well as a vast amount of unpitched noises.

    Do you really think atonality and serialism arose because composers 'run out' of original tunes? That had nothing to do with it.
    For some reason I seem to recall reading Terry Pratchett on this issue. I have no idea when, or why him of all people, but I think it was a good response

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    Argus
    I do not think that composers run out of great original tunes. I just entered this to cover all possibilities.
    Polednice
    "If, however, someone managed to write something Beethovenian and forge manuscripts ... we'd all be duped into loving it!
    So we are deprived of a possible great musical pleasure by conventions about originality. While we keep having smart contemporary composers writing "original" pieces that the vast majority of music lovers don't like and ignore.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lazyMusicLover View Post
    The space of original tunes is limited. That's way we have Atonality and Serialism. The "Symphony No. 10" would have to copy existing tunes and themes.
    A fairly simple calculation would seem to show that the space of original tunes, while strictly limited, is so large that this is not a real world limitation. If we assume that tunes are 3 measures long and are comprised of just eighth notes in a major scale (say 8 different notes), the total number of tunes is roughly 5 times 10 to the 21st power. Or put another way, if everyone alive today composed one tune a second, it would take 25,000 years to finish all the tunes. If you add two accidentals, it would take over 5 million years.

    However, that calculation ignores some important psychological factors. How different are tunes? I think we've all felt that some melodies are very similar to others we've heard. Clearly changing a few notes in a 3 measure tune would likely make people think they were hearing essentially the same tune. I'm not sure how many 2 measure tunes would be considered truly different. Also how many "enjoyable" tunes are there? I have no idea, but I suspect that a very large number of "tunes" may not be considered "musical" by composers. Certainly I doubt that Beethoven would use the vast majority of possible note permutations. Overall I still think we are nowhere near exhausting the musical tunes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lazyMusicLover View Post
    So we are deprived of a possible great musical pleasure by conventions about originality. While we keep having smart contemporary composers writing "original" pieces that the vast majority of music lovers don't like and ignore.
    I think the important point is that we don't only fall in love with a piece of music because of its purely musical content. People adore Beethoven's symphonies in part because of their cultural, historical, and personal context within Beethoven's own timeline. That's why, if we discovered Beethoven had written a 10th, we would cherish it as it would extend our fascination with his life and times. If an exact same piece was written, but not by Beethoven, it may be good music in its own right, but it would be stripped of that added cultural value, making it seem in many ways vacuous and unnecessary.

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    There are 2 questions here. The first is whether the work would be accepted and the second (the actual OP) would be whether someone could do it. To some extent the first question has been answered. Schubert's 9th symphony (considered one of his greatest works) was found 20 years after he died. I doubt it would have mattered if it had been found 50 years after he died. Of course we believe Schubert actually wrote his 9th symphony, but if someone else had done a good enough job of forging that work, we would still think Schubert wrote it.

    I believe that the acceptance (enjoyment) of the work would depend simply on whether people believed Beethoven actually wrote it. Presumably one of the criteria to believing Beethoven wrote the work would be the level of the work (how good people felt it was). If the vast majority believed it was Beethoven's, I think it would be hailed as a great work and played with his others. Think of it this way. Imagine if people actually believed the work were Beethoven's, but because it was discovered late, they dismissed it. I think that's hard to imagine.

    I think someone could "forge" a Beethoven symphony, but I suspect it would take a truly superior composer (along with others who knew how to make it look properly old) rather than just a good one. I don't know how many could pull it off. Of course, I can't imagine any good (much less great) composer trying.

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    Polednice
    I listen to music only because it gives me great, sensual, pleasure. I don't care about cultural, historical, and personal context. I don't know anything about Schubert life but I love his music, while (for instance) Boulez is just boring. Maybe if we did not have the notion of "added cultural value", Boulez would have written music that would have provided great pleasure to the majority of us naive music lovers. I can't believe that any composition (with no plagiarism) that would give me the same pleasure of B Symphony No. 7 could be called vacuous and unnecessary.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lazyMusicLover View Post
    Polednice
    I listen to music only because it gives me great, sensual, pleasure. I don't care about cultural, historical, and personal context. I don't know anything about Schubert life but I love his music, while (for instance) Boulez is just boring. Maybe if we did not have the notion of "added cultural value", Boulez would have written music that would have provided great pleasure to the majority of us naive music lovers. I can't believe that any composition (with no plagiarism) that would give me the same pleasure of B Symphony No. 7 could be called vacuous and unnecessary.
    Your tastes and preferences are fair enough, but there is nothing bad about cultural context - in reality, that's what informs art more than anything else. To certain audience members - such as yourself and many others - artworks are perfectly capable of existing in isolation; it's just the music and how it makes you feel. But that's not how Beethoven and Boulez came to write their works. Both composers, regardless of anyone's opinion on their creations, came to write their music after the indescribably complex influences of upbringing, life experiences, historical and political context, and many other factors. Those things may not matter to you in your exploration of their music, but it was essential to them in their creation of it, even if not always consciously, and it would be essential to the acceptance of such a work in concert halls.

    I don't doubt for a second that you and many others could love a faux-Beethoven symphony - even I admit that I would probably enjoy such a work on some levels. But it would be a novelty and a triviality, and, given that the writer would not have experienced all the things Beethoven experienced, I also think it would be somewhat disingenuous.

    Now if, on the other hand, you were to suggest that someone wrote music in an approximately Beethovenian Romantic style, but with their own voice and personal influences and didn't attempt to pass it off as Beethoven, then it would be a completely different matter.

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