Museums and the Web 1999

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Published: March 1999.


Beethoven Online

Manfred Bogen, Martin Göbel and Simone Lahme, German National Research Center for Information Technology

Introduction: The Digital Beethoven House

In June 1998, the budget commission of the German Parliament has devoted a large amount of Deutschmarks to the Digital Beethoven House project in the context of its tourism concept for Bonn. A project application was needed for a final decision in May 1999, so that the overall project was expected and scheduled to start in early summer 1999.

The Digital Beethoven House will be a digital library project of the Beethoven House Association and the City of Bonn in co-operation with GMD funded by the German Government, the German Research Community (DFG) and the City of Bonn (Bogen, M. and Borowski, M. (1998)). The idea and its conception started in late 1996. The Digital Beethoven House will consist of three parts. First, a digital archive contains digital copies of documents and objects in the Beethoven House, related meta information about the collection of the Beethoven House, and finally a set of functions for end users and administrators. Secondly, a Beethoven Salon in a real building offers on-site and high-quality access to the whole collection and additional visualisation facilities about Beethoven's life and works. Thirdly, a World Wide Web presence will contribute to the global visibility of Beethoven, the Beethoven House, and the City of Bonn. Among information about Beethoven's life and work, it will contain additional material about the museum itself, a virtual tour, and finally a Beethoven course.

In order to start activities, to bring the different co-operation partners together, and to gain additional experiences and reliable numbers to implement this big digital library project, it was decided to develop a demonstrator on a rapid prototype basis in advance of the specification of the project application which it finally should second. It should run on a laptop computer. This paper describes the conception and the state of the rapid prototype/demonstrator together with its embedding into the overall project plan and the rationale behind it. At first, the digital archive part of the demonstrator is introduced as a basis for all other developments. Then, Beethoven's workroom is presented as first entity of the Beethoven Salon. The demonstrator part of Beethoven Online, the World Wide Web presence of 'The Digital Beethoven House' project, contains a Beethoven Course and finally incorporates all other components. It is described next. The paper ends with some of the challenges we already found in this early stage of the project.

The Demonstrator

Key components of The Digital Beethoven House will be implemented in the demonstrator. It will contain a course on Beethoven's music and life, which teaches the Beethoven friend as well as the scientist, and it will simulate access to a visualization of Beethoven's workroom, offering access to one composition through every-day objects. Additionally, the work with the digital archive will be shown. Symphony No. 6 ('Pastorale') was chosen by the Beethoven House people to be the demonstration object out of Beethoven's works for this purpose.

The Digital Archive

The digital archive will contain digital copies of all documents and objects in the Beethoven House, related meta information about the collection of the Beethoven House, and finally a set of functions for end users and administrators.

In the demonstrator, it is not based on a database yet. Not all of its functionality is deployed. However, it contains representations of all document types available in the Beethoven House collection like compositions, manuscripts, first editions, letters, sketchbooks, pictures, audio documents, video documents, and journals. From the meta information available in principle, only a few are represented in the digital archive demonstrator component like short descriptions, a chronological ranking of the works, and links to other Beethoven sources.

Beside of an index and a catalogue, searching is the most important function in the digital archive demonstrator component from a user's point of view. Multimedia (video, audio, graphics) and textual information are unstructured data which normally do not contain indexing information. Structured data have been added manually by librarians in form of keywords like author, title, and publication date. Conventional search methods only allow searching for objects by these keywords. However, more sophisticated tools and methods will be developed and implemented in the Digital Beethoven House's context. The search results are presented in a user-friendly way. The ranking of search results provides a list of documents sorted by rank values. Abstracting search results reduce search results to its main points. Clustering of search result provides a result list in which the keywords describing each group of documents are assigned automatically.

Beethoven's Workroom

The Beethoven Salon will be in a real building ('Haus Zum Mohren') close to Beethoven's birthplace giving on-site and high-quality access to the collection of the Beethoven House. The building will be altered for the purposes of the project. The digital copies of all documents and objects in the Beethoven collection will be accessible here. In the Beethoven Salon people have the chance to experience the ancient world of Beethoven through audio, video, and virtual data. State-of-the-art visualization technology will give deep impressions into Beethoven's life and background. Interviews with Beethoven himself can happen based on modern videoconferencing technologies. Visitors can virtually touch the contemporary instruments and objects of the Beethoven House and can have a close look at the material and the mechanics used at that time. Last but not least, online studies can be made here at powerful workstations.

Beethoven's workroom offers access to one composition ('i.e. Symphony No. 6 ('Pastorale')) through every-day objects. The visitor enters a virtual model of Beethoven's workroom, Here he/she can passively follow a visualization of parts of Symphony No. 6 by music, movements, and colours, or he can interactively have an influence on the visualisation process.

As long as the Beethoven Salon has not been installed in the building to be altered (stereo display system/ audio display system), this event will take place in the CyberStage™ of GMD. For the demonstrator, only a QuickTime™ movie will be presented.

Beethoven Online

Beethoven Online will offer
  • information and latest news about the real "Beethoven House" and the virtual Beethoven Salon,

  • a virtual tour through the Beethoven House,

  • a Beethoven course about Beethoven's life and music

  • order facilities for objects of the museum shop or

  • special information like newsletters especially for the clients and the members of the Beethoven House Association.
Of special interest are the digital copies of Beethoven's manuscripts and documents which are planned to be digitized within the 'Digital Beethoven House' project.

Beethoven Online offers researchers a look at those documents in a downgraded quality. He/she can make a choice, fill out and sign an invoice, and immediately download and use the document needed or get a CD and facsimile production adapted even to individual user's/customer's needs.

This Web offer may attract people coming to Bonn. Additionally, the Digital Beethoven House will maintain a guide to Beethoven research world-wide. The normal operation of today's Beethoven Museum will be simplified and enhanced by modern technology.

A Beethoven Course for Beginners and Experienced

In order to connect the city of Bonn with the name and music of Beethoven, the Digital Beethoven House site will contain a course on Beethoven's music and life, which teaches the Beethoven friend as well as the scientist. The bilingual course (English/German) will also show step by step the whole offer of the Digital Beethoven House site like Beethoven's manuscripts. Parts of it are already implemented in the demonstrator.

The Beethoven courses aim is to provide a comprehensive learning platform which is motivating, intuitive, fun and simple to operate so the user may immerse quickly into the content by using full multimedia Internet possibilities like text, picture, audio and video. It is planned to make it the most complete Internet offer about Beethoven world-wide.

Another advantage of the Beethoven course is its ability to connect teachers, scientists, and other learners who study Beethoven via the Internet so they can communicate and exchange information fast and easily. By this, they form online working groups and their discussion results will be saved to the database too.


Almost everything in The Digital Beethoven House will base on the digital archive. Several challenges have to be mastered to establish it. The scanning system must be of high-quality as there are photographs, picture postcards, 3-D compositions and objects, books, magazines, newspapers, and even microfilms or microfiches to scan. The valuable primary material is either available as original or as copy or facsimile and often yellowed, soiled, and even fragile.

Having digital copies of the Beethoven manuscripts has several disadvantages too. It makes it simple on one side to publish the documents but also makes it easy on the other side to manipulate the document, duplicate them or distribute them without the owner's approval. Content integrity, authentication, intellectual property, and copyright protection are the major issues here. It is technically not possible to prevent the unallowed manipulation, but it is possible to record the information about the owner, the application purposes and the copyright in the document itself. Watermarking, visible or invisible, is part of a solution for this problem.

Some questions still have to be solved in this context and have to be followed by during the implementation of the Digital Beethoven House. There is no standard method to embed and proof watermarks in digitized documents which browser, operating systems, image processing software and hardware devices can follow, and there is no standard registration procedure for watermarks. This is needed for example for evolving search services, which have the task to find watermarked documents in the world-wide Internet, or for registries.

One issue in distributing digital objects is the granting of access rights to registered users all over the world ('pull technology'). Modern compression technologies and scalable coding can be applied here to limit the bandwidth usage during the transmission. More sophisticated distribution channels and policies will be implemented in the Digital Beethoven House. All this stresses the high innovation potential of the project and its importance for the city of Bonn and the preservation of Ludwig van Beethoven's works. Additionally, there is also the storage problem which will make the task even more complex. The project funding will end in the year 2004. After that, the Digital Beethoven House will have to run by itself.


Bogen, M. and Borowski, M. (1998). The Digital Beethoven House. In Proceedings of WebNet 98 - World Conference of the WWW, Internet & Intranet, Orlando, Florida; November 7-12, 1998, CD-ROM, ISBN 1-880094-31-2, Article