The History of Music
The History of Western Music
Music has been around since the dawn of time, ever since man first inhabited this planet we have learned to communicate in ways other then conventional speaking. Different Cultures all have there own specific way of communicating through music. Music is basically broken into two specific groups Eastern Music and Western Music. Eastern music is mainly derived from the orient and India. While, Western music first emerged from Europe. Western music has developed in many ways since the middle ages through its form, sound, and message.
The Middle Ages
In 500 A.D., western civilization began to emerge from the period known as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which many invading forces ruled Europe and brought an end to the Roman Empire. For the next hundred year, the newly emerging Christian Church would soon govern Europe, administering justice, initiating the Crusades against the East, creating Universities, and for the most part dictating the destiny of music, art and literature. Pope Gregory I is believed to have collected the music known as Gregorian Chant, which was the approved music of the Church. Later, Notre Dame in Paris was accredited, with the creation of a new kind of music called organum. Which was created by much more melodic phrases then Gregorian Chant, organum was also the first type of music too utilize fourth and fifth intervals, which would become one of the building blocks of modern musical theory. Music in the church had not changed much during this time as said by Charles Burney in A General History of Music Volume I, “Music in the church, however, appears to have undergone no other change at this time than in being applied in some parts of the service”(57). A type popular music began to erupt and was sung all over Europe by the troubadours and trouveres of France. The troubadours and trouveres played mainly lutes (a primitive guitar) and sung songs, which everyday people could appreciate and identify with. And it was during the middle Ages that western culture saw the arrival of the first great name in music, Guillaume de Machaut. De Machaut polyphonic style did not catch with many during the middle ages, but would later influence a flood of composers during the Renaissance.
The Renaissance began in the year 1420 and ended in the year 1600. The Renaissance meaning rebirth was a time of great cultural awakening and a pinnacle time for the arts. Sacred music began for the first time to break free of the confines of the Church, and a number of composers trained in the Netherlands mastered polyphonical music. One of the early masters of this Flemish style was Josquin des Prez. De Prez’s use of multiple melody lines gave way too the idea of orchestral music which has been a staple in the world of music for hundreds of years. These polyphonic traditions reached a zenith through the works of Giovanni da Palestrina, who perfected this type of orchestral scoring.
Secular music thrived during this period, and instrumental and dance music was performed at many social gatherings. The late Renaissance also saw in England the thriving of the English madrigal or ballad, the best known of which were composed by such masters as John Dowland, William Byrd, and Thomas Morley.
The Baroque Age
Named after the architectural style of the time, the Baroque period saw composers beginning to rebel against the styles that were prevalent during the Renaissance. Many monarchs employed composers at their courts, to compete with other countries. The greatest composer of the period, Johann Sebastian Bach, was an employed composer. Bach and other of the great composers of the time were able to break new musical ground, and in so doing succeeded in creating an entirely new style of music.
During the early part of the seventeenth century the genre of opera was first created by a group of composers in Florence, Italy, the earliest of these operatic masterpieces were composed by Claudio Monteverdi. The instrumental concerto became a customary part of the Baroque era, and found its strongest advocate in the works of the Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi. Harpsichord music achieved new heights, due to the intricate works of such as Domenico Scarlatti. Dances became formalized into instrumental suites and were composed by many composers of the era. Yet, vocal and choral music still reigned supreme during this age, and culminated in the operas of German-born composer George Frideric Handel. Who according too Alfred Einstein in A Short History of Music was the set up man for musical genius Ludwig Van Beethoven, ” Handel’s achievement is the preparation for what Beethoven afterwards did with the symphony; and it is on this eminence that these two masters, so utterly unlike, meet conquerors.”(69)
The Classical Period
From 1750 to 1820,musicians moved away from the heavily ornamented styles of the Baroque age instead embraced a clean, and uncluttertered style they reminiscent of Classical Greece. The new aristocracies were replacing monarchs and the church as patrons of music, and were demanding an impersonal, but tuneful and elegant music. Dances such as the minuet and the gavotte were fashioned in the forms of entertaining serenades and divertimenti.
At this time the Austrian capital of Vienna became the musical center of Europe, and works of the period are often referred to as being in the Viennese style. Composers from all over Europe came to train in and around Vienna, and gradually they developed and formalized the standard musical forms that are prevalant today. European musical culture for the next several decades would spawn from this small area of Austria. Johann Stamitz contributed greatly to the growth of the orchestra and developed the idea of the symphony. The Classical period reached its pinnacle with the masterful symphonies, sonatas, and string quartets by three great composers of the Viennese school: Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Franz Joseph Haydn was accredited with perfecting the sonata in Charles Burney’s A General History of Music II in which he states, “While the first movement of the sonata developed its perfected form in Haydens hands” During the same period, the first voice of the Romantic Era can be found in the music of Viennese composer Franz Schubert.
The Romantic Era
Composers of the Romantic Era broke new musical ground by adding a emotional depth to the prevailing classical forms. Throughout the nineteenth-century artists of all kinds became intent in expressing their emotions. The romantic artists were the first in history to give a name to their respective generation.
The earliest Romantic composers were all born within a short time span in the early years of the nineteenth century. These include the great German masters Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Frederic Chopin, Hector Berlioz, and the greatest pianistic showman in history, the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.
During the early nineteenth century, opera composers such as Carl Maria von Weber turned to German folk stories for the stories of their operas, later in the century; German opera was virtually monopolized by Richard Wagner.
During the nineteenth century, composers from non-Germanic countries began looking for ways in which they might express the musical sound of their respective homelands. Many of these composers turned to local history and legends as plots for their operas, and popular folk melodies and dance rhythms of their homelands as inspiration for their symphonies and instrumental music. The evolution of existing instruments, plus the invention of new ones, led to the expansion of the symphony orchestra. Taking advantage of these new sounds and new instrumental combinations, the late Romantic composers of the nineteenth-century created rich and large symphonies, ballets, and concertos. Two of these late romantic composers were Johannes Brahms and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovksy.
At the start of the twentieth-century many artists were searching for exciting and different modes of expression. Composers such as Arnold Schoenberg explored unusual and unorthodox harmonies and tonal schemes. As said by Mark Prendergast in The Ambient Century, “At first there may seem to be no connection between Schoenberg and Ambient and electronic music. Schoenberg was responsible for taking German Romanticism and reaking it in two. By abandoning key signatures and eventually caused a revolution which echoed down through the twentieth century” (00). Hungarian composer Bela Bartok continued in the traditions of the romantic era and fused the music of Hungarian peasants with twentieth century forms. Avant-garde composers such as Edgard Varese explored the manipulation of rhythms rather than the usual melodic/harmonic schemes. The symphony, became somewhat modified by this time, and attracted such great composers as Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich, while Igor Stravinsky gave his full attention to Avant-garde and instrumental colors throughout his career.
Many composers throughout the twentieth-century experimented in new ways with traditional instruments, however many of the twentieth-century’s greatest composers, such as Giacomo Puccini and pianist/composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, remained true to the traditional forms of music history.
The twentieth Century also produced many new genres of popular music such as, country, blues, jazz, and rock and roll. During this time musicianship declined in regard popular music; any one with rudimentary music skills could easily play these simple musical forms. Though much of this music especially rock ; roll, and the blues was not condoned by many white parents teens still found a way too enjoy the music that would become their legacy, as was said by Robert Palmer in Rock ; Roll an unruly history “Of necessity, then, rock and roll’s original audience was in many respects a secret audience teenagers gathering after school, cruising in their cars, or lying awake under their bedclothes deep in the night, their ears pressed to tiny little transistor radios.”(95).
Western Music has developed in many ways since the middle ages through its form, sound, and message. Throughout these different periods in western music one thing has remained constant, the true essence of music, a way to communicate with someone on a much more divine level than be by rudimentary conversation. Though Ludwig Van Beethoven and Paul McCartney may seem completely opposite they have one in common through their music they changed the world’s perception of its self
Burney, Charles. A General History Of Music. New York: Dover Publications, 1957.
Burney, Charles. A General History Of Music 2. New York: Dover Publications, 1957.
Einstein, Alfred. A Short History Of Music. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1969.
Palmer, Robert. Rock & Roll an unruly history. New York: Harmony Books, 1995.
Prendergast, Mark. The Ambient Century. New York: Bloomsbury, 2000