The year 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, the patron saint of music, and March 26 marks the 193rd anniversary of his death. Sergei Rachmaninoff, post-romantic composer, died 147 years ago on April 1. A team of researchers led by Professor Park Ju-yong of the Graduate School of Culture Technology at KAIST announced their findings from big data analysis last month. The most influential classical music composer is Beethoven and the most innovative is Rachmaninoff, according to their study. What kind of research methodology did they use? Why Beethoven and Rachmaninoff?
“We analyzed the sequences of chords, which are groups of notes sounded together, and their patterns,” said Professor Park in a phone interview on Friday. Other factors such as rhythms or tones were not taken into account. Those who used more of new sequences of chords were considered innovative composers and those who created the sequences of chords that future composers imitated the most were deemed influential in the study. The researchers did not apply normalization techniques, where different chords of keys are adjusted to one key.
Music fans generally have a prejudice that Mozart is a musical genius and Rachmaninoff is a sentimentalist, who has nothing to do with innovation. The conclusion of the study might be a surprise to those fans.
“Composers of the classical period, such as Haydn and Mozart tended to follow the existing musical grammars and used less of new chords,” said Professor Park. Post-romantic composers including Rachmaninoff, however, had a tendency to create their own musical grammars, which brought about innovation in the sequences of chords. Modern composers, who emerged after World War l, are excluded from the research as they use totally different musical grammars. When asked if it was difficult to input vast amount of chords from so many composers, Professor Park said it was possible thanks to classical music pieces that have been arranged in MIDI files.
Other classical composers who were innovative other than Rachmaninoff include Bach, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. Schubert, Chopin, and List followed Beethoven in the list of most influential composers. But those who were born earlier, farther away from the early 20th century, had advantage over those who were born later in terms of being influential.
Professor Park’s 2015 thesis, where he analyzed the network of composers, whose music is collected together in compilation albums, drew attention. When this reporter asked him if he has always been a fan of classical music, the professor said he likes a variety of musical genres, including classic, pop, and K-pop.