History of Music

The History of Music is the study of the origins and evolution of music over time. It can be seen as an historical discipline, within the field of History of Art in general and in the study of the cultural evolution of population, and it is studied by historians, or it can be classified as a musical discipline, being in this case part of musicology and music theory, which is studied by musicologists.

In it etymological origin, the word music comes from the Greek μουσική τέχνηmusiké téchne, which can be translated the art of the muses.

Even though the concept of music has appeared in Ancient Greece, most of the historians agree that music was known and played since prehistoric times, being based on Nature sounds, and for this reason music is considered the most ancient and primitive art form.

It is not possible, however, to define a clear and ordered development for music history, since it is directly linked with the history and development of human intelligence and culture.

As was mentioned before, most studies indicate that a form of music more similar to what nowadays is perceived as music was originated first in the Ancient Greece, and afterwards it developed along with several different artistic movements that are associated with the great artistic eras in European tradition, such as the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque or the Classicism, to name a few examples. Nevertheless, this concept is incorrect, since it is only centered in the development of music in the West, ignoring its evolution all over the world. Only in the last few decades the study of the origins of non-European music has intensified, as well as the study of pre-historical music.

This way, it is easy to conclude that there are as many histories of music in the world as there are different cultures, havening each one of them its own subdivisions and specificities, which makes it almost impossible to limit the evolution of music without having to first circumscribe it to a certain period and geographical location.

Still, there are some contact points that are common over the evolution of then musical art, which makes it possible to define in a broad way the main characteristics of music in certain historical eras, mainly based on the most important developments of music, and that had an influence in the course of the world history.

Music in Pre-History

Understandably, it is impossible to know exactly how music appeared among people from pre-historical times, how it sounded or for what was it used, what were the main purposes of the sounds, and there are no certainties at all if this first sound produced where any way similar to the music as it is known nowadays. The theory that defends that music was already used in Pre-History is based on some rock art found in caves that seem to depict people singing, dancing and even playing instruments. There were also found fragments of what it’s thought to be these early and rudimentary musical instruments, which reinforces this theory that music was already present in a constructed and social way in Pre-History.

However, it is believe that Man used to resort to sounds like screaming, body sounds and hitting rocks or tree branches together, as a primary form of communication, being the ultimate goal to mimic the sounds of Nature, and not to produce music. Only from the point where individuals started to use this mix of sounds as a form of social bound and to amuse themselves, we can say that music was born, as the way it is perceived, beginning a long journey that would last to these days, and more.

Thus, it is believed that primitive individuals at some point started to use their music in ceremonies and rituals, for example, to evoke the forces of Nature, ancestor cults or while hunting. Voice and other sounds produced solely with the human body were the first form of music, and gradually some other instruments where introduced, even though they weren’t much elaborated at all.

This way, an unbreakable bound between Man and Music was formed, which persists until this day and years to come.


Music in the Ancient Times

The first civilizations with organized and cohesive musical structures are considered to be the great ancient civilizations, namely the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, where music played an important part in several daily activities and in ceremonies.

This information is based on the diversity of depictions of musical instruments from the era, and also on the references to activities related to music found both on illustrations and on documents of the time.

In Egypt, where the society was extremely stratified, music was reachable and common among all social classes, and it was played in the Pharaoh’s palace as well as in the working fields or during religious ceremonies; at the time, most of the players were women. Music was perceived has a divine gift from the Gods, so it was always present during worship celebrations. The instruments used possessed quite simple sounds, such as harps, flutes, lyres, lutes and some percussion instruments.

In Ancient Greek society, though it was still connected to religion, music was mainly used in theatre plays. Besides, Greeks considered music a very important art form and science, and it was one of the main objects of study in young men’s education. The Greek civilization had a fundamental role in the evolution of music in the West, especially in regards of their contribute to the development of rhythm and musical notation. The instruments mostly used where aulos, lyres and percussion instruments, and it were also the Ancient Greeks responsible for the invention of what is today known as the organ.

The music of the Roman Empire was substantially influenced by Greek culture; it was present in all sorts of celebrations, as well as in daily life, among higher and lower classes of populations, and it was an important part of Roman culture. The Romans even invented and hydraulic organ, which functioned with water.


Music in the Middle Age

With the fallen of the Roman Empire and the progressive growth of Christianity, the church assumed a fundamental role in the development and evolution of music, and the monks where then responsible for the development of musical notation and theory.

Liturgical songs were the most common genre of music during the Middle Age; they were transmitted through generations, and were very different according to the culture and location where they originated. It was also during this period that the Gregorian Chants arise, being mostly a compilation of some of the best and most popular liturgical songs at the time made by San Gregorio Magno, who composed some songs himself. This songs were a form of prayer and to show the love for God.

Thus, it is clear that there was a strong link between music and religion during this historical period. At the same time, and perhaps because of this connection, there began to be a notorious separation between religious music and popular music, which was more evident in the instruments played, since in church the organ was the only instrument allowed, while the non-religious music, or profane music, used many different instruments, such as the fiddle, the lute, the flute, the bagpipe, the harp, the cymbal, the drum, among many others.

The main contribute of the Middle Age to the evolution of music was the introduction of musical scores, even though the ones used at the time were very primitive and completely different to the ones used these days.


Music in the Renaissance

The Renaissance period is mainly characterized by the alteration of the way how Man perceived the world, and consequentially this change of thinking would affect also all art forms.

The Renaissance Man overcame the domination of the church and the religious values, and now he finds his moral and rules within himself and in the Nature; at the same time, church also became a lot less rigid, which allowed a more intense exchange and mutual influence between religious and what was considered profane music.

During this period in History, the members of the court and wealthy man started giving job opportunities to composers and musicians, who were needed in their parties, auditions and every cultural ceremony.

The voice also became even more preponderant in the musical field, and there was a strong focus on vocal polyphonic music, with emphasis on the madrigal. Simultaneously, and besides the fact that vocal music was normally accompanied by some sort of musical instrument, it was also composed music to be solely played, without any voices, mainly with the lute and the viol.



Music in the Baroque

Following a trend that had started in the earlier time period, it was during the Baroque that instrumental music reached the same importance as vocal music, for the first time in history.

The music from this period is characterized by its exuberance, energetic rhythm and long ad organized melodies; composers used to resource to great sound contrasts as well.

In the Baroque period there was consequentially a major evolution in the musical instruments in general, with emphasis on the violin and stringed keyboard instruments, such as the harpsichord. This development on the instruments led to the evolution of orchestras.

It was also during the Baroque that opera and ballet shows appeared and quickly became very popular, as well as the suite, which is a succession of different songs that accompany dance moves.


Music in the Classicism

During the Classic period music became lighter and less complicated that in the Baroque, revealing and extreme smoothness and beauty, and reaching a level of balance and aesthetic perfection never before heard.

In the Classicism, melodies accompanied by chords were prevalent, and the melodic phrases were short, clear and perfectly defined, allowing the listener to understand when is the beginning, middle and end of each one. There was also a bigger variation in terms of the dynamics of musical compositions, and it was during this period that the sforzatto, the crescendo and the diminuendo appeared. The resulting sound of all this combined elements was very tonal.

The harpsichord becomes less utilized, giving place to the piano, which would end up replacing it definitely. Orchestras get a lot bigger and more complex, and start using a wider variety of instruments.

The Classicism was the period when several different musical ensembles were created, like the sonata, the string quartet, the symphony and the concert


Music in the Romanticism

The Romantic era is principally characterized by the freedom of expression of feelings.

It was during this period that folklore music appeared, associated to nationalist ideas that were being spread mostly due to the social and political changes that came along with the French Revolution in 1789. In this context, Romantic composers and songwriters tried to pass on their feelings and affections towards society through their music.

Romantic melodies are more lyrical and the harmonies possess a bigger contrast, creating sounds that are more varied, with many changes in dynamics and timbre. Songs take bigger proportions, not only in terms of complexity, but also in length. Along with this evolution, musical instruments also improved a lot, as well as musicians, and consequentially orchestras reached a level of sound quality as never before; at the same time, and due to all this developments, the difficulty in music execution also grown a lot bigger.

Paris and Vienna became the main musical centers in Europe, where the most recognized musicians and composers came together. Music started spreading even more throughout society, its importance enlarged, concerts and musical shows where becoming more frequent, which led to the construction of many show rooms and theatres.


Music in the Contemporary Age

The XX century was the age of experiments, the search for new techniques and new paths for the art in general, and it was probably during this period, and until this day, that music has been facing more alterations than ever.

During the Romantic period the tonal possibilities were deeply explored, so the innovations introduced in the Contemporary Age are mostly in regards to the sounds, most of which are an outcome of the use of new composing techniques, and especially the introduction of new instruments, more technologically advanced, that allowed the production of original sounds. The firs electronic instruments were created during this period, such as the electric guitar or the synthesizer, and they were firstly correlated to Pop and Rock music, being later adopted by other music genres.

The evolution of the media was decisive to the massification of music consumption, while the technological developments led to a complete alteration on the ways of producing and listening to music.

The Contemporary Age was also the stage for a constant search for new sounds, and for this, besides the creation of new instruments, some of the older ones were perfected; the timbre was seen as one of the most important elements in music, and the focus is on the creation of new and groundbreaking sounds, melodies and new forms of musical composition.

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