The History and Art of Music

Published 27 Dec 2016

History of Music

Music has been used in history even earlier than language has been used. Among others, if all cultures had something in common, it was that music had been a part of their history, has been known to influence and shape different cultures and have been part in the development of the society. Reciprocally, the culture’s music is heavily influenced by many aspects about the society such as the pervading culture itself, the socio-economic situation, the environment, as well as the technology (History of Music, 2006).

Music is influenced by the environment because the composers as part of the society cannot be separated from the context in which they belong. Thus, it can be said that music has been influencing and at the same time, is being influenced by the many factors that shape the society. This can be illustrated by most periods in history starting from the prehistoric to the present.

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The prehistoric times can be said to be the period when man was most unified with nature and it is not surprising for historians to theorize that music during that period was influenced by natural sounds such as birdsongs, wind blowing, and the rustles of leaves (Music, 2006). For civilization to proceed there must be a way of communication among men and in the prehistoric times, and historians believe that men use sounds imitated from nature to communicate with others.

Music predating language is referred to as prehistoric music. Examples of such music include the Native American Music, Aboriginal Music and what non-European continents call “folk,” “indigenous,” or “traditional” music (History of Music, 2006). The term “Ancient music” refers to the music that followed “Prehistoric.” Their only difference is that ancient music existed in a period when man had become more civilized antedating the beginning of language (History of Music, 2006).

As the different societies develop and as men became more civilized, so did the music and its purpose. But to all societies, the purpose of music was and is still among entertainment, celebration and religion. In Asia, particularly in China and Japan for example, music had been a part of court entertainment. Japan had religious songs, gathering songs and children’s songs. India, in its classical times used music as a religious inspiration addressed to their religious deities, as a form of cultural expression or pure entertainment (History of Music, 2006). History may show that music had similar purposes for different societies but the development of music in history has always been tracked through its evolution in the West, particularly, in Europe.

Very little is known about the perse musical traditions of not only in other parts of the world but particularly in medieval Europe where as said earlier, was the point of reference in describing the history of music. It was only during the Middle Ages, when the power of the Roman Catholic Church was at its peak that these various musical traditions were unified (History of Music, 2006). During this time, musical development centered on the Church and very few music emerged that was not influenced by religion. This was because the Roman Catholic

Church then was as powerful as to suppress any music that was not religiously inspired to favor liturgical music on the other hand.

It is during this time that liturgical music, most popular at present as the Gregorian Chant started. It is thought that it was Pope Gregory I himself who had been the composer of the liturgical music. In addition, it was also during this period that polyphonic music was sung and notation was reinvented. The invention of polyphonic music and the reinvention of notation allowed many schools of music to flourish. Among which include the St. Martial School, Notre Dame School, Santiago de Compostela and the English School. With the rise of these schools was the development of secular songs which include the music of the troubadours, trouveres and Minnesanger from which evolved the early Renaissance musical forms (History of Music, 2006).

Renaissance in Music began in Northern Europe. The early Renaissance music is said to be a reaction against the technicalities imposed by the previous styles. Music during this period contained balanced and less complex melody and balanced polyphony in all voices. From then, composers and musicians began spreading in Europe to be employed by the Church and the Aristocratic society such as the Medici, Este and Sforza. Several musical styles developed afterwards: there were styles of simplicity in sacred music which was developed by the Council of Trent; styles directed towards complexity which was best exemplified by the avant-garde style of the Venetian School.

After revolutionary movements in music, which aimed to restore the music of the Ancient Greeks, monodic acts were developed. These monodic acts were what are now called the “opera” which beginning defined the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque from which, Instrumental music started its dominance (History of Music, 2006).

During the Baroque period, the traditional Church music continued but it was secular music that became dominant. Sonatas and concertos were developed. The most dominant musical instruments during this period were the harpsichord and a bass instrument, either viola or bassoon. Baroque music was known for its improvisation (Merker, 2000). It was during this period that prominent composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel and Antonio Vivaldi arose.

After Baroque was the Classical period o music which was characterized by singable melodies with an accompaniment and a homophonic texture. The voice-like melodies during this period allowed the replacement of singers in operas by instrumental music (Merker, 2000). Musical forms such as sonata, symphony and concerto then dominated the musical scenes. The most prominent musician during this period was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Merker, 2000).

Dramatical musical representations became popular during the Romantic period of music. This allowed the expansion of the orchestra as well as made popular concerts. Among the prominent figures in this period were Chopin, Johann Strauss II, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner (History of Music, 2006).

As technology developed, and as different cultures merge, so was the role of music. With globalization allowing its easier dissemination, music was not limited to clubs and concerts. Types of music became perse and music became more visual. The modern music allowed more freedom and experimentation in terms of musical styles (History of Music, 2006).

Music as an Art

Art is defined as man’s way communicating or expressing himself to attain beauty and/or understanding of both himself and the things around him. This means that music, when used by man for expression is controlled by the composer, who is then controlled or influenced by the society, environment or context in which he belongs. This means, music as a form of art is influenced by the context in which it belongs to. Music as an art form is influenced by history and has the power to change or sway history as well.

Music as a form of expression is controlled by man using its different elements and aspects of sound. These elements include melody, harmony, rhythm, tone and form. Sound aspects include pitch, timber, loudness and duration (Music, 2006). These elements and sound aspects are controlled by both the composer and the performer. During the composition and production of music, it is the composer who has the power to input his creativity towards the certain work. He or she can control almost all elements. But once the music is performed, it is the performer who has the control over the music’s form.

The performer could change the melody, loudness and pitch of a composition, different from what the composer may have intended, depending on what the performer chooses or how the performer wants to express the composition. During the performance, everything about how the composition is to be performed is the performer’s decision to make and the composer would not have any control however precise the composition is. This is termed as the interpretation.

In terms of expression, art genres such as jazz and blues could be considered more artistic as it gives the artist more freedom to improvise. In these genres, artists have more control the melody, harmony and the rhythmic framework of the composition (Owen, 2000).

Among all types, it is that with the most freedom of improvisation that is considered of greatest artistry and this involves of course the spontaneity of thought during the performance itself. This is art in music with the performer in focus (Owen, 2000).

If the composer’s art is to be emphasized, the music should be looked at in terms of its processes. These processes are what create the music that the performer is to make. This is what involves the elements of music which creates the sounds. To understand more effectively the art and construction of music, the elements and sound aspects are used. The most common tool used in judging the quality of a musical composition is rhythm which is the process in which music occurs in time (Music, 2006).

The creation of sounds varies from composer to composer depending on their styles, tastes and their own personal biases and influences. But usually, the process or composition of music is judged based on the examination of the elements of music as described in the practice in Western Classical music, now involving more common methods such as the African Jazz and rap music (Music, 2006).

The Art in music is in music’s nature itself. As a form of expression, the art in music is in its elements and in the processes in which the artists, particularly the composers and performers are able to manipulate it for their own purposes.


Different cultures had different variations in musical styles. Other than the cultural aspect, music also varied from different periods from the use of instruments and techniques to the use of music as well.

Music has been shaped by man’s history and culture and likewise, it has contributed to the development of man’s culture as well especially since it has been considered not only as a form of entertainment and ceremonies but for propaganda as well. We can see this particularly in the medieval times when the power of the Roman Catholic Church was at its peak and even in the modern times when it is being used in political campaigns and in music videos promoting pop culture and sometimes subtly implying idealism and reform. These have been entirely possible since undoubtedly, music is a mode of expression—an art form where each element could be manipulated to produce a certain effect and meaning. Today, its influence cannot be denied given the technology and ease in which it can be disseminated.

Works Cited

  • History of music. (2006, December 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:04, December 10, 2006, from
  • Merker, Brown, Steven, eds. (2000). The Origins of Music. US:The MIT Press.
  • Music. (2006, December 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:08, December 11, 2006, from
  • Owen, Harold (2000). Music Theory Resource Book. UK: Oxford University Press.
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