Most of the world woke up to a cute Google doodle this morning, featuring the incredible Johann Sebastian Bach of organ-shredding and music-dynasty-begetting notoriety. The doodle’s claim to harmonize any two-measure melody in the style of Herr Meister Johann was intriguing. I quickly plugged in the first thing I could think of: “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” (I’ve been teaching a lot of beginner piano lately.) What resulted sounded like a mistake, a four part chorale written by Charles Ives or someone who might be failing Music Theory I. What’s the tonal center? Why are some of the chords missing thirds? And what’s with that minor second between the soprano and bass voices? Can the A.I. even counterpoint?
In short, my first try at using the Google doodle made me suspicious that it was a far shot from generating Bach-like music. But I decided giving the program W.A. Mozart’s “Ah vois dirai-ja, Maman” wasn’t quite fair; so, next, I tried giving it the first two measures of a melody Johann set a quite a few times: “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.” Below is what I got, with my quick analysis. To other music theory nerds, I’m sure I’ve missed stuff–let me know in the comments!
[CORRECTIONS: The third chord (on beat 4 of measure 1) should be labeled a V4/3. The suspension in the tenor (or escape tone) on beat 3 of measure 2 is foiled because of the E in the alto. March 23, 2019.]
Now, compare that to my favorite of Johann’s own settings: BWV 303 (from bach-chorales.com).
To be fair, I generated thirteen “A.I. Bach” harmonies; and the above was the most humorous. But in my mind, this very happily confirms that, as great as technology is getting, J.S. Bach’s genius–his mastery of melodic/harmonic tension, fugue, and incredible voice leading–CANNOT be replicated by a computer program. Try again another time, Google. In the meantime, Bach’s ghost is killing kittens for that parallel fifth.