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Unrecorded works of Beethoven
July 11, 2005 11:05 AM   Subscribe

The Unheard Beethoven - This website endeavors to make all of Beethoven's unrecorded music readily accessible to the public. These never-before-heard works are now available to anyone with a computer, a modem and a soundcard, in the form of MIDI files. At present, over twelve hours of Beethoven's music is available on this website and in no other listenable format.
posted by Wolfdog (16 comments total)

What a great idea. MIDI files would be several orders of magnitude cheaper to produce than full orchestral recordings.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:19 AM on July 11, 2005

Since when has MIDI been a listenable format?

If I were Beethoven, and I'm not, I'd come back to life and explain in great detail why I'd never used MIDI in my work after 1982.
posted by NinjaPirate at 12:17 PM on July 11, 2005

(also: this is a small but horrifying link, Wolfdog - many thanks)
posted by NinjaPirate at 12:19 PM on July 11, 2005

Why on earth wouldn't these have been done by orchestras by now?
posted by agregoli at 12:28 PM on July 11, 2005

agregoli - my guess would be 'because they're crap'. I listened to a lot of the Beethoven Experience put on by the BBC recently, and while there was some amazing stuff, there was also a fair bit of dross (there's a reason why we don't hear Beethoven's songs very often, for example).

Also, MIDI? Meh.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:33 PM on July 11, 2005

The guys who are cranking out these MIDIs are also working with various orchestras and conductors to get recordings made. They are having a fair amount of success, too.

Before you complain about the MIDI, ask yourself if it's easier to get an idea of how the music might sound by looking at a score, or by listening to a MIDI. They're not intended for kicking back with a glass of wine and enjoying the lush MIDI sounds.
posted by agropyron at 1:05 PM on July 11, 2005

(yes, but it's funnier this way)
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:28 PM on July 11, 2005

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that MIDI is only as good as the programming and sounds on your soundcard, it is not an inherently bad sounding format. It makes me sad to see MIDI so oft maligned.
posted by ddf at 2:15 PM on July 11, 2005

If you work with the limitations of MIDI you can make it sound okay. But for certain things -- expression, orchestral textures, etc. -- MIDI is definitely inherently bad. Many of the things that are good about Beethoven's music are things that MIDI does not excel at. So listening to these files may not be the best way to judge the quality of this music.

Personally, I'd like to look at a score and play through bits at the piano.
posted by speicus at 4:02 PM on July 11, 2005

The Scarlatti MIDI files at this site are fantastic, especially if your soundcard can use his sound font. It's a great introduction to Scarlatti (you might even get Hooked on Scarlatti), and has resulted in me buying a bunch of real recordings of his keyboard sonatas.

It's at least as good as listening to a good pianist's piano roll recordings for player piano.
posted by straight at 7:06 PM on July 11, 2005

The midi performances are amazingly cold and lacking in texture, yet still fascinating. Interesting site Wolfdog.
posted by caddis at 8:17 PM on July 11, 2005

There's a lot more to MIDI than notes-on, notes-off. Expression can be there, if used and recorded, and then if the equipment used for playback can follow the controller changes. Then, obviously, the sounds used (sound fonts, on Creative cards) have a major impact.

Lots of fun can be had by editing the file to orchestrate to your own taste. The real skill in using MIDI is learning how to play a given sample in such a way as to produce warmth and expression (or even realism, for the given sample).
posted by Goofyy at 11:12 PM on July 11, 2005

This is a pretty cool idea -- for a composition student like me, it might be a good starting point for a paper or performance project with a chamber group or something like that.

I agree with the others who have posted about the quality of General MIDI ... it basically sucks.

But, we should keep in mind too that while LvB is one of the great ones, not everything the great ones write is worth listening to. a lot of Mozart's stuff from his early career, while interesting, isn't really that good.... which is probably why orchestras don't play these Beethoven works. why would a conductor worth his salt choose an obscure LvB piece that's not that good, when he could program the 5th Symphony and pack the concert hall?
posted by teletype1 at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2005

>not everything the great ones write is worth listening to
But sketches and incompleted works can be a lot of help - and a renewal of faith - for students.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:06 AM on July 12, 2005

Setting aside the variable of MIDI programming (brain-dead volume-constant mechanical string of notes versus an elaborate and nuanced portrayal of volume, tempo, accent, etc by someone with much more time on their hands), MIDI is a very poor format for capturing and retrieving musical notation. Standard MIDI does not, for example, distinguish between enharmonics, so there is no built-in way to encode c-flat rather than b-natural or a-doublesharp.

(There are however a number of MIDI extensions both proposed and in use by various folks that provide a means for adding notational and other information to the Standard MIDI format. Most of these are clever hacks, doing their best to extend what is a very, very limited performance-oriented standard.)

MIDI became (and to a considerable degree remains) the common format for generic musical transport in spite of and at the same time because of it's very limited feature-set: it can't capture a very wide variety of data, which leaves it pretty simple to implement and an easy target for format translation if you're willing to accept the data loss.

Why I'm saying all this I'm not sure.
posted by cortex at 5:16 PM on July 12, 2005

Standard MIDI does not, for example, distinguish between enharmonics

Curiously enough, neither do sound waves.
posted by squidlarkin at 11:10 PM on July 12, 2005

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