--By Lily McNamara
A Brief History of Western Music
One important thing about Pop Radio 77 is that we believe great music is absolutely timeless. We thrive off our appreciation of the best music ever created, but we mainly focus on music from the 20th century. Great music has been created rapidly since the beginning of time, from sticks and stones, to amps and electric guitars. At this station, we all have a love and appreciation not only for music, but also for the process and each stage of how it came to be what it is today. As a writer and a music lover, I think it's important to take a moment and appreciate every stage of music as it has developed over the centuries. Below, I’m going to take you through from the very beginning of Western music, to what it has become today. Here is a brief history of Western music.
The Very Beginning
Music is found in every society and considered universal. The first piece of music ever discovered was in 800 BCE, written in cuneiform and known to be a religious ballad. Much of the early music created had religious, spiritual, and magical meanings, especially when used in rituals and ceremonies. Instruments first came into play when people simply learned to clap their hands rhythmically.
Our ancestors soon realized they could create similar sounds and beats using sticks and stones rather than using their hands. Many early instruments were created out of soft wood and reeds, which have not survived throughout the years. Ancient instrument parts that have survived are bones from swans and vultures that could date back 43,000 years. Other rock-type instruments have been recovered from caves, some of which date back to about 12,000 years ago! The first instruments created include the flute, drum, harp, trumpet, and lyre.
Influence of Dance on the History of Western Music
Many people believe that music was created, and still exists today, due to dancing. Dancing and music went together hand-in-hand in ancient times. Dancing and music are believed to be first used in rituals. By the Middle Ages (400-1300) a music scale was created by Pope Gregory I (540-604) and a system of writing music was created by Guido d’Arezzo (980-1050). Instruments continued to develop, and the bagpipes, organ, and recorder were introduced to the public.
Dancing also continued to progress. The first organized dances were professional Court dances, and by the 12th century these progressed even further to couples dancing alone. By the time the Renaissance came (1300-1600), music and dancing continued to progress and gain popularity among the general public.
The most popular music of this period was church music, but music was also very important in theatre. Instrumental and harmonics developed rapidly in these years as well. Harmonics were used in pageants and theatre. New instruments were developed, including the harpsichord, lute, guitar, violin family, and the bassoon. With more instruments developing, this also positively affected the development of dance. Popular dance styles that emerged in this time include the “danse basse,” which involves low gliding steps, and “hault danse,” which involves high and fast steps.
In 1416, the first dance manual was published in Europe, encouraging dance styles to develop even further and become more popular. The first ever ballet show was performed in 1489, and almost a century later, the first printed account of ballet was published in 1581. During this time, other dance styles emerged, including the well-known style, clog dancing.
Moving Through the Stages of Western Music
The next two stages in time were Baroque (1600-1750) and Classical (1750-1800) and in these two time periods, composers became a more prominent part of music. Baroque was a period in which operas came to be a popular music style, the first being written by composer Monteverdi in 1607. Instrumental music became extremely popular in these years, including the first ever orchestra concert, sonatas, and symphonies. Polyphonic music, which is music producing many sounds simultaneously, was at its height of popularity. The leading composers were Monteverdi, Purcell, Vivaldi, Bach, and Handel. During this period, the French horn and oboe were new popular instruments that were first introduced.
Many new dance styles came to be in these years, one of the most popular being ballet masquerade. The jigs, mazurka, saraband, chaconne, gavotte, and minuet also came to be popular dance styles during this period. The very popular waltz was derived from the minuet and became associated with evil in parts of England. Ballet continues to rapidly develop, and the five basic foot positions were created.
The Classic stage went hand-in-hand with Baroque, being that composers became very prominent in these times. Popular composers at this time (1750-1800) were Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, many of which are still widely known and recognized today. The symphony was a huge part of Classic Style. Originally, symphonies were 3 movements, fast-slow-fast, but later towards the end of the 18th century developed into 4 movements, fast-slow-fast-fast. Beethoven is very well known due to his symphonies and remembered as one of the most prominent composers from these years.
Popularity of church music declined in these years and string quartets grew more popular. Pianos and clarinets developed and grew in popularity in the Classical Age. Dancing also became more of a way to express yourself and much less formal. Ballet became more physically demanding and new moves like pirouettes and leaps became popular among ballerinas.
Moving Into the Present
The Romantic stage began around 1830 and lasted until 1900. It's a stage of symphonies, concerts, and of pianos reaching new heights of popularity. In Italy, music started to explore more realistic themes and topics, as opposed to classical themes. In the middle of the 19th century, bass bands became very popular, and towards the end of the 19th century, blues music was introduced and musicals began to be a new form of entertainment.
New instruments became popular during this period including the harp, saxophone, and tuba. As music continued developing, so did modern dance and for the first time, dancers were now on pointe. Popular dances of the period include the can-can, square dance, polka, and the great waltzes.
The 20th Century
The 20th century brought along many new incredible styles of music which include rock, country, folk, soul, reggae, and many more! Half-way through the 20th century, popular (pop) music came into play, which at the time was mainly rock and roll, a style that was created from rhythm and blues (R&B). Pop music was mainly created for young people to enjoy.
Ballroom dancing also became widely popular, especially with Latin-American roots like the samba, tango, and rumba, along with the two-step and the foxtrot. In the 1920’s, tap dancing was first introduced. Rock and roll resulted in the rise of modern dance and free dance in the 1950’s. Throughout time, the development of music has gone hand-in-hand with the development of dance.
That’s the timeline of how Western music developed over thousands of years. What I love most about going through the history of Western music, is seeing that even before music really existed, people always found ways to make music, even if it was out of sticks and stones. It really shows how important music has always been to humans. It is also incredible to see how music and dancing go hand-in-hand, developing and progressing together, but always being two of the most timeless things the world can offer us.
----Background of cover image courtesy of serenademagazine.com