Musical Dice Games

Last update : August 27, 2013

musical dice games


The idea of the musical dice game is to cut and paste prewritten measures of music randomly together to create a piece of music. The random generation is done by a dice roll. The sum of the thrown numbers is looked up in a scoring table to determine which measure to play.

Today, its W.A. Mozarts (1756-1791) “Musikalisches Würfelspiel” which became famous and succesful. This mucical dice game was first published in 1793, two years after the death of Mozart. The original manuscript nor a direct reference to Mozart were ever found, but his authorship is no longer questionned by musicologists (Köchelverzeichnis KV1 Anh. 294d, KV6-516F).

IEEE Computer Magazine 1991

IEEE Computer Magazine 1991

I first heard about Mozart’s dice composer in 1991. The july issue of the Computer magazine Vol.24 No.7 published by the IEEE Computer society was dedicated to computer-generated music. The project overview of Stephen W. Smoliar “Algorithms for musical composition: a question of granularity; pp.54-56” mentionned Mozart’s work.

The same year (1991), Chris G. Earnshaw from Cambridge, developped a computer implementation of Mozart’s dice game as a public domain program for the Atari computers. His version was based on the 1798 edition by Simrock in Bonn (reprinted by the Liverpool Music Press) of Mozart’s “Instructions to compose without the least knowledge of music so much german waltzer or schleifer as one pleases, by throwing a certain number with two dice” .

Other programmers have written before him versions for the BBC micro and for the Sinclair Computer.


Software for the Atari Computer 1991

In the mean time, many computer implementations of Mozart’s Würfelspiel have been published on the web. The most interesting related www sites are shown below :

W.A. Mozart

W.A. Mozart

Mozart was not the first composer who was interested in chance music and mathematical composition. Other known authors are A. Kircher (1650), Mizler (1793), J. Haydn (1793), F.G. Hayn (1798), J.C. Graf (1801), C.H. Fiedler (1801), L. Fischer (1801), A. Calegaris (1801) and G. Catrufo (1811). The best documented historical work is Johann Philipp Kirnberger ‘s “Der allezeit fertige Polonoisen= und Menuettencomponist” published in 1757.

Schott Music, Mainz, published a software about musical dice games for Windows computers : Musikalische Würfelspiele, von Mozart, Haydn und anderen großen Komponisten. Aus Tabellen werden Takt-Kombinationen gewürfelt, die so klingen, als wären sie ganz individuell komponiert. Available on