Chess Games Translated To Music

  • tongun18

    Posts: 594

    Feb 24, 2011 12:20 AM GMT
    Thought some of you guys might enjoy this:

    You can find the original posting here:

    Jonathan W. StokesFor absolutely no good reason, I found myself wondering what a chess game would sound like if played on the piano.

    One can’t help but notice that algebraic chess notation maps almost perfectly to scientific pitch notation…


    The eight columns of a chess board correspond to the eight audible octaves. E.g., C4 is a middle square on the chess board and C4 is “middle C” on the piano…



    I know what you’re thinking: the diatonic scale has seven notes “A” through “G,” but the chess board goes up to “H.” So how can we overlay chess notation with pitch notation?

    Fear not! We’ll simply use the Northern European system of musical notation, where an “H” indicates a B Natural, and a “B” indicates a B flat. This is the notation that composers from Schumann to Lizst used to sign the name “B-A-C-H” into their music (see BACH motif).

    So we now have a system for mapping the moves of a chess game onto a piano keyboard. For example, Anderssen’s “Immortal Game” begins with 1. e4 e5 2. f4… which maps to E natural in the 4th register, E natural in the 5th register, and F natural in the 4th register.


    The remaining task is to assign note values. What makes a quarter note, a half note, and a whole note?

    The relative value of chess pieces is Pawn = 1, Knight = 3, Bishop = 3, Rook = 5, Queen = 9, and King = Infinity.

    Assigning these exact ratios to note values will create some rather annoying polyrhythms. So let’s round off the ratios a tiny bit and assign the following note values to the chess pieces: Pawn = 1/16th note, Knight = 1/8th note, Bishop = 1/8th note, Rook = 1/4 note, Queen = 1/2 note, and King = rest.


    To put the icing on the cake, let’s condense the 8 registers into a single octave to make the chess melodies more tolerable. If a note is doubled (as in 1. e4 e5), let’s jump the second note up an octave to provide some flavor.

    So without further ado, here are three famous chess games mapped onto the piano:

    June 21 1851

    In “The Immortal Game,” Adolf Anderssen gave up both rooks, a bishop, and ultimately his queen, in order to checkmate Lionel Kieseritzky using only his three remaining minor pieces - a bishop and two knights.


    I set blues chords in the left hand to justify the constant tonal shifts from B to b flat in this chess game. The chords modulate from C Major to F Major and finally end in B Flat Major.

    The game/melody: Pe4 Pe5 Pf4 Pe x Pf4 Bc4 Qh4+ Kf1 b5?! Bxb5 Nf6 Nf3 Qh6 Pd3 Nh5 Nh4 Qg5 Nf5 Pc6 Pg4 Nf6 Rg1!! Pcxb5? Ph4 Qg6 Ph5 Qg5 Qf3 Ng8 Bxf4 Qf6 Nc3 Bc5 Nd5 Qxb2 Bd6 Bxg1? Pe5! Qxa1+ Ke2 Na6 Nxg7+ Kd8 Qf6+ Nxf6 Be7#

    1858, Paris

    In “The Opera Game,” Paul Morphy bested the German Duke Karl of Brunswick and Count Isouard during the Opera “Norma” at the Italian Opera House in Paris.

    Morphy won with a snazzy queen sacrifice in what is considered one of the most brilliant combinations in chess history.


    This bouncy, modal melody seemed to lend itself to a Baroque invention. So I added in a left hand melody using Species Counterpoint.

    The game/melody: Pe4 Pe5 Nf3 Pd6 Pd4 Bg4? Pd4xe5 Bxf3 Qxf3 Pdxe5 Bc4 Nf6 Qb3 Qe7 Nc3 Pc6 Bg5 Pb5? Nxb5! Pcxb5 Bxb5 Nbd7 0-0-0 Rd8 Rxd7 Rxd7 Rd1 Qe6 Bxd7+ Nxd7 Qb8+! Nxb8 Rd8#

    World Chess Championship 1972, Game 6

    Bobby Fischer bests Boris Spassky with an aggressive queenside attack. Spassky joined the audience in applauding Fischer’s win and called it the best game of the match.


    This chess game produced a wild jumble of syncopated sevenths and minor seconds. I tried to find order in the atonal chaos by laying in major ninth and suspension chords. My hope was to somehow evoke the major seventh chord sound of the 1970s, when this game was played. It came out sounding like if Schoenberg wrote intro music for a morning talk show.
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    Feb 24, 2011 1:47 AM GMT
    Sick genious... Boy probably mastered math when i was still learning what the hell fractions are ... the first time
  • trugh

    Posts: 27

    Feb 24, 2011 4:26 AM GMT
    w6w. n5ce.
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    Feb 24, 2011 9:03 AM GMT
    The reasoning and conceptual basis is not unlike something such as Serialism, however aurally it's very straightforwardly tonal in its harmonic structure with a very disjoint melodic line.
  • tongun18

    Posts: 594

    Feb 24, 2011 5:07 PM GMT
    I tend to stand in awe this type of thing.

    I like chess. I like music. Never in a million years would I have conceived of such a relationship between the two. It makes me smile.
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    Feb 25, 2011 1:36 AM GMT
    Who knew chess was a jazz artform?