Musicologists may have solved a mystery around one of the all time great composers of symphonies.
Ludwig von Beethoven had nine of them, plus piano concertos, sonatas, works for string quartets, and so much more.
But there’s been something puzzling about his works: if you follow the metronome marks on some of his sheet music, Beethoven wanted his music played really, really fast.
And while there have been some efforts to play the pieces precisely as fast as the sheet music indicates, most performers end up playing the works much more slowly.
Beethoven was one of the first major composers to use a metronome, and music researchers have been very interested in his specific device.
There have been lots of theories: was it broken or defective? Was it set up wrong? Did it need more weight? More lubricant for the moving parts?
Researchers at two universities in Spain used data analysis to look at the discrepancy between the metronome marks and the tempos at which these works are usually played,
They found that Beethoven may not have intended to include those super-fast tempos at all, but accidentally did so because, as an early tech adopter, he may have been misreading the metronome, possibly by looking in the wrong spot on its scale to mark the tempo.
In other words, he was using new technology and had some issues figuring out how it worked.
And because his works became known as some of the greatest ever written, those apparent errors are now a part of music history too.
So future great composers trying out new stuff?
Always double-check the instructions.
Beethoven had his own metronome, but he never had his own cookie!
Lady Gaga does, though.
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Image: Ludwig van Beethoven in his Study; from a painting by Carl Schloesser, via Wikicommons