Female musicians playing a flute and lyre
as depicted in an Egyptian hieroglyphic.
The history of music is woven through the history of civilization. Before any written language, perhaps before language at all,
there was music.
Early humans probably used their voices to comfort a crying baby, to chase away the blues, or
to add comfort to the sounds of the night.
Early African music probably imitated the sounds of native birds or used hollow logs to beat out a rhythmic pattern in spiritual gatherings
Ritual songs and dances were handed down from one generation to the next and memorized by heart.
Written notation first appeared with the development of instruments such as the early form of the flute and the lyre. (The first known sheet music published in 2000 BC was a cuniform tablet found in Mesopotamia with notes written for a lyre.)
Meanwhile, during biblical times, Hebrew music reached its golden age with a music school established at Solomon's temple, which soon produced a talented troupe of professional singers and musicians. Lyrics and music centered on spiritual evocation and salvation, but just as often they summoned images of romance and sexual attraction. Solomon's Song of Songs, for example, featured lyrics as evocative as any Top 40 ballad: "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold thou art fair, thou hast dove's eyes."
By the Middle Ages, in Europe bawdier songs of lust and social satire were being performed by popular wandering minstrels out in the countryside. Meanwhile, in the bigger cathedral cities the Catholic Church was the major influence of musical development throughout the era.
And, here is where the grand medieval monasteries and cathedrals of the age proved to be natural breeding grounds for soul-stirring Gregorian chant.
Yet another new genre of music was polyphony that featured delicate, peaceful harmonies that were even believed by the faithful to help dispel The Plague.
Just as the Renaissance provided a revolution in painting and sculpture, the period was no less groundbreaking when it came to music. The invention of the printing press played a large part in distributing written sheet music far and wide, and the Protestant Reformation meant that the Catholic Church had less influence over musical development.
Up north, the Franco-Flemish school helped introduced a more sophisticated style of polyphony with duets and four-part harmony that traveled to Rome and Venice, which soon became main European centers of personal expression in music. More power was produced in new musical instruments such as the bassoon and the trombone. In Florence, a new art form called opera was also emerging.
By the Baroque period, tonality was introduced via the use of minor or major chords. This direct appeal to emotion is a practice still used in movie scores, for example, to enhance a sweeping dramatic love scene or to chill the spines of horror movie audiences.
And, finally, into the classical music era, which is dated roughly between 1750 and 1820, the golden age produced such famous works by Beethoven, Mozart, and Joseph Hayden.
During the classical music period, less attention was paid to sweeping melodies and embellishments. The one word to describe it? Vigor. The result was less sentimental, more powerful compositions which continue to stun audiences around the world.
The classical period also produced the clearly defined string, brass, woodwinds and percussion sections of a modern orchestra that we know today.
Next followed the romantic music period -- which put the attention firmly back on emotion and sentiment -- the two human traits threatened with extinction in the mechanized world of the Industrial Revolution.
At the opera house, composers Verdi and Puccini captured the spirit of the age with their popular operas like Rigoletto and La Bohème. Economic changes and social unrest also brought national fervor and patriotism to the fore. The modern phrase "go big or go home" aptly describes the works this period produced with the addition of xylophones, drums, bells, and triangles to the orchestral repertoire.
Today, an ideal program of romantic era music might include Chopin's Minute Waltz, Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5, Franz Liszt' Liebestraum and any work by Tchaikovsky.
By the 20th century, the rise of radio brought instant access of music to millions, and instant stardom to music artists both classical and popular.
Suddenly, tenors like Enrico Caruso and musical composers like Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff were household names.
On the flip side, America claimed its own classical composer in George Gershwin who incorporated the purely American music forms of blues and jazz into his widely-acclaimed classical piece, Rhapsody in Blue.
As the world continue to speed up, so did its music with the big band era led by Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington.
As they still do, singers emerged with recording contracts and enjoyed all the acclaim of Hollywood stardom. Later, post-war America had its first teen culture that fueled the growing popularity of rock n roll, The Beatles, the Motown sound, pop music and disco.
Today, the rhythmic beat of urban hip hop pervades the airwaves even as the music industry keeps it ear to the ground for the next big movement in music.
More about music history around the Web:
Every ethnic group and every era of modern history is represented
by a musical form. For more on the history of the medieval music scene,
the Baroque's greatest hits, blues, bluegrass, country
rock n roll, and more check out these top resources from around the Web:
of music - Wikipedia - Running the gamut from ancient
to modern with stops at the Middle Ages, Renaissance and modern
music including sample audio files and related references &
Opera and Classical Music - Dip your toe in the water for an engaging history of classical and opera with illustrated fun facts and biographies of famous opera singers and composers.
and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum - Search or browse photos
and information on all inductees with detailed biographies and
accomplishments. A slick visual timeline requires Shockwave.
Passion for Jazz - As complete a history of jazz as you'll
find is only one of the offerings here. Stop in at the interactive
keyboard for some hands on music education to complement the more
academic info and bop around the other sections. Cool, man, cool.