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Music history

Music history and development

Table of contents

The history of music or music history describes the historical development of music and musical phenomena over the course of time. It encompasses various aspects such as the development of singing and melody, rhythm, musical instruments, harmony, harmony and writing and reproduction.

It goes back to ancient times. Even in ancient Greece and Rome, there were music theorists such as Pythagoras and Aristoxenos who were concerned with music. Church music played an important role in medieval music. Gregorian chant, a monophonic form of music, was introduced in the 9th century and shaped the music of the Middle Ages. Over time, however, other musical styles and forms developed, such as polyphonic music, opera and oratorio.

The Renaissance was a time of upheaval and renewal in many areas, including music. New musical forms emerged, such as madrigals, motets and fugues. In the Baroque period, musical instruments were further developed and new compositional forms such as the suite and the sonata were created. The music of the Viennese classical period was characterized by its clear structures and balance. The works of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn are among the best known of this period.

In the In the 19th century, music underwent a revolution. Romanticism, an era of art and culture, had a great influence on music. She brought new themes and emotions into the music and broke away from the classical rules and structures. The music of the The 20th century was characterized by numerous trends such as expressionism, futurism and jazz.

The history of music is closely linked to technology. The invention of writing and reproduction, the emergence of sound recording and the development of electronic musical instruments have permanently changed music and opened up new possibilities.

Music has evolved throughout history and there are a variety of styles and aesthetics that are part of music history. Each style has its own history and its own meaning. Music history is therefore an important subject of historical musicology.

Early development

Around two million years ago, the anatomical conditions for differentiated singing developed. At this time, the upright gait became established with Homo ergaster, which led to the larynx sinking deeper into the body. At the same time, the chewing apparatus regressed as a result of the change to a more meat-based diet. As a result, the oral cavity became larger and was able to produce a wider range of sounds. Some scientists see the origins of music as a communicative adaptation to life in larger social groups. Others, such as Geoffrey F. Miller, on the other hand, assume that human musicality developed mainly through sexual selection. More recent approaches assume that both factors played a role. The world’s oldest known musical instruments are 40,000-year-old flutes. If you look at the human voice as a musical instrument, it was certainly used to produce music much earlier.

The first earthen instruments were made in the Neolithic period, including human and animal-shaped rattles. The first metallurgical work was carried out in the Bronze Age, when advanced civilizations were already emerging in the Near East. Remnants of metal jewelry on ancient animal horns are among them, as are bronze horns in the shape of animal horns, such as the luren found in the Nordic circle. These were always in pairs and in the same, sometimes even fixed tuning, which may have served both to amplify the sound and to play chords. Other metalwork included rattle plates and sound plates.

In his “History of Music” (1885-1887), the music historian John Frederick Rowbotham differentiated the stages of development of archaic music according to the range of tones used, similar to the formation of scales. Before Terpandros, the creator of Greek lyric poetry in the 7th century BC, only the range of a tetrachord, i.e. a fourth, was found, which Plutarch confirmed in his dialog on music as an indication of older cultural epochs. However, this classification should not be regarded as generally valid, as in the music of other ethnic groups, e.g. the indigenous peoples of North America, Australia and Oceania, chords are also found across a wide range of tones.

Myths of origin

Many peoples attribute the origins of music to supernatural or historically intangible figures such as gods and spirits. There are numerous myths of origin that differ according to culture and belief.

In Hinduism, Brahma, the god of speech, is also regarded as the creator of music, while his son Narada rules over it. Shiva is credited with inventing the musical bow, while Sarasvati is said to have invented the musical scale. Hindu legends explain the multitude of ragas by the fact that many shepherdesses (gopis) tried to enchant the flute-playing Krishna with their own melodies.

According to Chinese mythology, the musical scale was given to us by a miracle bird, while in ancient Egypt Thot, the god of writing, is said to have created music from the sound of words. Hathor was the goddess of dance, song and art. The Greeks regarded Orpheus, the son of the Muses, as the creator of music and dance, who is even said to have made stones weep.

In the Arab world, legend has it that the camel driver Maudar ibn Nizar broke his hand after falling from his mount. In his pain, he called the camels and made them run, which is said to have given rise to the song. West African peoples in Niger believe that people have learned music from forest spirits, while a giantess carries all the music of the world in her belly and the demons have revealed it to people in individual songs.

The combination of music and blacksmithing is a popular concept in many cultures. According to biblical tradition, Jubal is the progenitor of musicians, while his half-brother Tubal-Cain is considered the ancestor of blacksmiths. In the Middle Ages, the two areas were often referred to together. Based on a treatise by the ancient mathematician Nicomachus of Gerasa, Guido of Arezzo claimed that Pythagoras invented music when he heard the sound of a blacksmith at work (see also Pythagoras in the forge).

According to Aztec myths, a man fetched music from the sun by divine command. Among peoples with animistic beliefs, such as the Eskimos, it is believed that melodies were conveyed to people at the beginning of time by conjuring spirits. Other indigenous peoples, such as the Seneca, link the emergence of music either with the visit of a god in human form or with the gift of the first sacred instrument.

Cultural development

With the emergence of different social groups, the roles of shaman or medicine man developed, and later a class of priest-kings emerged. In early cultures, chants, sounds and rhythms were also used for the (magical) expulsion of demons[6] and to create a sense of well-being. With the increasing variety and technical improvement of instrument production, music gradually broke free from its cultic ties. The structures of the music became more orderly, scales began to form, central tones and intervals crystallized as the first signs of harmonic relationships, and consonance and dissonance principles with fifths and fourths as leading intervals regulated the harmony.

The selection and ordering of the tonal resources led to the development of tri-, hepta- and pentatonics. The latter are still the dominant scale models today: seven-level in the Middle East and Europe and five-level in East Asia. The musical structures were predominantly heterophonic or showed the first signs of parallelism, canon and imitation forms, especially resounding drones, which created and at the same time required a fixed mood and a harmonic framework. The rhythmic structure follows almost exclusively the basic principle of rising and falling, which results from the body movement of walking. The beats, number and grouping of bars again followed the two-part structure, which was extended to four, eight, sixteen etc. elements, as is still the case in period construction today. Repetition, contrast, variation and continuity were the basic elements of the musical composition and determined the melodic-rhythmic structure.

Ancient oriental cultures

The Sumerians practiced a ritual music that was performed by state priest-musicians and was never purely instrumental, but was sometimes accompanied by instruments. According to the functions, such as laments or hymns to the gods, genres emerged for which individual groups of musicians were responsible. The drums used in rituals were man-sized frame drums and kettle drums such as the large bronze drum Lilissu, which was played from the beginning of the 2nd millennium.

The Babylonians and Assyrians took over the legacy of the Sumerians around 1800 BC and reduced the size of the standing harp to a portable harp. They introduced the plectrum, which allowed more rhythmically precise playing, and further developed long-necked lutes. New

wind instruments

were the double aaulos, flutes and


with a curved tube. The finger holes of these instruments are used to deduce five- to seven-note scales. At the same time, the Assyrians enlarged the ensembles, and a relief in Assurbanipal’s palace finally showed a procession of eleven instrumentalists and 15 singers. They also began to develop secular art music.


China established an advanced civilization with fully developed music as early as the 3rd millennium BC. The West, especially Mesopotamia, provided important impulses. China invented a scale system based on numerical ratios, pentatonic scales and fixed pitch tuning. Precursors of the five-stringed arched board zither called Qin appeared as early as the Xia dynasty (ca. 2200-1800 BC). The compositions were monophonic and homophonic and changed only insignificantly over the course of history.

In the Shang dynasty, drums, vessel and reed flutes and bronze bells were added. Confucianism organized both the key system with the yin-yang distinction between “female” and “male” scales and the cosmologically oriented theory of music. Styles, genres and the use of instruments were precisely defined. During the Zhou dynasty, music and its ethical and educational effect on people became the focus of state and social philosophy. Music was regulated by the state and the official aesthetic view followed the views of the respective emperor. Seven-level scales were developed around 300 BC. Important sources of music theory in Confucianism are the Book of Songs and the Book of Rites. The ritual book records the systematization of musical instruments according to material categories (bāyīn): Metal, stone, fur, gourd, bamboo, wood, silk and earth. The most important innovations included lithophones, transverse flutes and mouth organs with up to 17 pipes.

The restorative Han dynasty around the turn of the century continued to open up Chinese music to Western influences. The aulos and the pipa lute were brought to China. The first systematic musical notation was developed. The Imperial Music Office collected and archived documents of early music, cultivated cult, court, military and folk music and maintained its own foreign departments.


There is only speculation about the music of the Indus culture in the third millennium BC. It may have taken inspiration from Mesopotamian and Egyptian culture. The immigration of the Aryans, who were related to the Greeks, around 1500 BC brought western influences to India. The fusion of the two cultures gave rise to the Vedic cult, which was initially reserved for the Brahmins and only became accessible to the lower castes around 200 BC. The Nātyaveda, the last Vedic scripture, contains the first records of music in India. The musical approach resembled the Greek unity of sound art, language, dance and gesture and was regarded as a form of theater. According to Vedic ideas, cult music was strictly separated from art, folk and popular music. The former was subordinate to the god Brahma, while the latter was assigned to Shiva.

The tonal system of Indian music is based on a division of the octave into 22 microtonal shrutis, which are not differentiated according to a mathematical division, but according to the aural impression. This is where Indian music differs from its Greek counterparts. Seven-step scale models, which are analogous to the European major and minor keys, are formed from this tone stock. There is a very differentiated gradation between consonant and dissonant intervals. The ragas form the basic structure of the melody, similar to the Greek modes. Ragas not only have a tonal character, but are also assigned to times of the day and year, playing occasions, affects and ethical principles, which must be taken into account when choosing the “right” scale.

The rhythm of Indian music is also modal. It consists of single, double and triple tone durations, which are formed into talas, fixed rhythm sequences with a regulated emphasis on each tone duration. The basic pulse of the music meets again in the first beat, while polyrhythms can be created by overlapping different accents within a bar. Flutes and drums were among the oldest instruments in Indian music. Vinas, a collective term for a group of stringed

stringed instruments

are already described in the oldest Vedas. Persian lutes such as the tar arrived in the Indian cultural area from the West, from which the long-necked lute tanpura developed and, in the 18th century, the short-necked lute sarod via the intermediate stage rubab. During the Mughal period, the shehnai, which originated in Persia, replaced older Indian types of shawm. A rich inventory of wind, string and percussion instruments developed on Indian soil.

percussion instruments


Ancient Egypt

Music in ancient Egypt was documented in hieroglyphic inscriptions, tomb decorations and musical instruments as burial objects. In the pre-dynastic period there were rattles, rattles, mouthless longitudinal flutes and simple trumpets, and the music was mainly religious in character, with the magical dance being a mask or weapon dance.

With the beginning of the Old Kingdom around 2700 BC, the range of instruments was extended to include the bowed harp, which in its elongated form was still clearly reminiscent of the musical bow and only had a small resonating body. During this time, secular music also developed and was played at festivals. There were vocal and mixed ensembles and, for the first time, purely instrumental music in various formations. Women from the higher social classes were now also allowed to dance and play music on the




play. Reliefs in the burial chambers suggest polyphonic music, similar to the Assyrian wind instruments, the finger holes indicate five- and seven-step scales. The Old Kingdom was the first culture to develop chironomy to complement a rudimentary musical notation: like a conductor, the leader communicated steps and rhythm to an ensemble through precisely defined hand movements and arm positions.

After the end of the Middle Kingdom and during the Second Intermediate Period, Egypt absorbed ideas from the Near Eastern Hyksos. They introduced the lyre, which originated in Bedouin culture, the sistrum in the form that is still used today as a cult instrument in the Coptic Church, and finally double-skin drums. The latter accompanied the wild jumping dances that the Hyksos brought with them from the East; they replaced the measured shouting and figure dances of the Old Kingdom. A final innovation of the Hyksos was the shawm-like double aulos, which was common in the New Kingdom and eventually became a Greek instrument.

Musical culture flourished in the New Kingdom, and individual genres established themselves as dance, military and cult music according to their functions. The instruments allowed virtuoso playing, especially on the technically developing harp, which was played as a shoulder, angle, bow and standing harp. Thanks to a larger resonance box, up to twelve strings and elaborate ornamentation, it was the most important instrument of Egyptian musical art of this era. A fretted long-necked lute completed the set of instruments. During the time of the New Kingdom, small scales developed which were later adopted by classical Arabic music. The drones were also blown on the double instruments.

During the Late Period and the Greco-Roman period, Western instruments such as the lyre and the lute were also introduced to Egypt and influenced the local music. The music of Ancient Egypt had a strong influence on the music of Ancient Greece and later on European music history.

Nowadays, traditional Egyptian music is still practiced and has evolved. Some of the old instruments such as the oud and the nay are still used, and there are also modern versions of these instruments as well as new instruments that have been developed over time. Egyptian music is an important part of the country’s culture and is played at many occasions, including weddings and festivals.

Palestine and Syria

Palestine maintained a constant cultural exchange with neighboring regions over a long period of time. The Phoenicians and Hebrews were the leading peoples of the land.

The Phoenicians are regarded as the actual inventors of the double aaulos in the 2nd millennium, but it is uncertain whether they were also the first to build the psaltery. Their instrumental repertoire included double wind instruments, lyres and frame drums that originated in Mesopotamia. Clay tablets with Hurrian hymns were found in the city of Ugarit, representing the oldest musical notation in the world.

The music of the Hebrews, which is mainly documented by Old Testament sources, began in the early period of Israel’s history up to around 1000 B.C. It essentially corresponded to Egyptian culture as the Israelites had known it before the Exodus. The first instruments were the kinnor, a tragleier with five to nine strings, and the shofar, which is still used today, both of which were intended for ritual use in the temple. There were also longitudinal flutes and numerous percussion instruments based on Mesopotamian models.

In the royal period (from around 1000), the Jews adopted some instruments of foreign origin such as the double shawm, the angular harp and zither-like plucked instruments.

plucked instruments

from Phoenicia. A professional musician class developed among the Levites, who performed the temple music with a large choir and orchestra. The musicians were organized in guilds and ran temple schools to train the next generation. At the time of the division of the kingdom after Solomon (926-587), synagogue music developed, modeled on the Psalms of David. They ultimately became the starting point for early Christian music.


The origins of the philosophy of music lie with Pythagoras, who is said to have discovered the proportions of intervals in the forge. Plato and Aristotle are regarded as the founders of music philosophy due to their preoccupation with the aesthetic effect. Aristoxeno’s distinction between theoretical teaching and the practical practice of music led to a differentiation between science and art, knowledge of reason and sensory perception, which was evaluated differently in the various epochs of Western music history, with one side always taking center stage.

The music literature of antiquity has produced numerous attempts at definitions, two of which are particularly important. Claudius Ptolemy took a middle position between Aristoxenus and Euclid in the 2nd century harmonica and described music as the “ability to recognize the differences between high and low tones”. Aristeides Quintilianus, on the other hand, defined it as the “science of melos and that which belongs to melos”. Both definitions emphasized the musical material, the scale and its mathematical foundations as the nature of the tonal structure.

Two other late antique definitions have a more far-reaching significance. In his work “De musica”, St. Augustine of Hippo defined music as “scientia bene modulandi” (“the art of keeping time”). In Boëthius’ work “De institutione musica”, the author follows on from Ptolemy and defines music as “facultas differentias acutorum et gravium sonorum sensu ac ratione perpendens” (“ability to accurately measure the differences between high and low tones with sense and mind”). These definitions describe music for the first time as an acoustic phenomenon that can be both penetrated by reason and perceived by the senses. Pietro Cerone and Athanasius Kircher adopted Augustine’s definition verbatim, while Jerome of Prague, Franchinus Gaffurius, Gregory Reisch and Glarean also adopted Boëthius’ definition verbatim.

Middle Ages

Our journey through European music history begins in the year 500 AD. Medieval music is by no means as outdated as you might think. It can even be found in today’s popular music. Bands such as “Subway to Sally”, “In Extremo” or “Schandmaul” use old instruments and medieval lyrics, whereby medieval rock has now established itself as an independent style of rock music.

Although the Middle Ages are often associated with castles, monasteries, robber barons, crusades, the plague epidemic and the Inquisition, the violence does not apply to the music of the time. Music was primarily cultivated in churches and monasteries, whereby the meditative, religious style of sung prayer in Latin is known as Gregorian chant. This chant is monophonic, simple and unaccompanied. The collection of hymns goes back to Pope Gregory I. There were also musical performances outside the church walls. The musicians were minstrels, minstrels and later the mastersingers.

Minstrels were the medieval folk musicians. They went around, sang, performed art and theater pieces and often delivered messages and news while singing. Minstrels were mainly to be found in castles. These musicians already belonged to the upper echelons of society. They wrote and composed their songs themselves. The most famous of these was Walther von der Vogelweide. With the decline of chivalry and the emergence of the bourgeoisie, singers organized themselves into guilds and so-called “singing schools” were established. The


were now called “Meistersinger” when a commission of seasoned mastersingers awarded them this title. One of them was Hans Sachs.

Even in the Middle Ages there was a varied range of instruments. The best-known instruments were the flute, the fiddle, the shawm and the bagpipe (bagpipes). The harp was also very popular. It initially had 25 strings. Today, a fully grown harp even has 47 strings. After the ban on playing instruments in church was lifted, around the 9th century the


was introduced. Around the same time, polyphony and musical notation developed, which can be regarded as one of the most important musical developments of the Middle Ages. Incidentally, the statue above shows Guido of Arezzo. He lived from 992 to 1050 and was a Benedictine monk, music theorist and teacher. He improved the hitherto common notation by introducing an extended staff with four staves. Today’s musical notation goes back to this development.

The Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries) is often described as a time of upheaval in which art and culture underwent major changes. There were also many innovations and developments in music. In contrast to the monophonic music of the Middle Ages, polyphony now emerged. This opened up many new possibilities for composers to realize their musical ideas.

Church music was still very important in the Renaissance, but secular music also gained in importance. Polyphonic madrigals were composed, which often dealt with love, nature and society. The discovery of new continents and cultures also contributed to the emergence of a new music characterized by the influence of foreign rhythms and melodies.

One famous Renaissance composer was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). He was an Italian composer who is best known for his sacred works. His music is characterized by a clear, balanced polyphony that is still considered a model for church music today.

In addition to the development of music, the Renaissance also saw many inventions and discoveries that

music production

and reproduction of music. For example, musical notation was further improved and new instruments such as the harpsichord and the




“Music is a gift and a gift from God”

Martin Luther, a progressive and courageous Augustinian monk, is said to have nailed his important 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517. This period marked the beginning of the Reformation and thus a change in the principles of church order that had been in force until then. But other determined and brave men were also killed in the 15. and Born in the 16th century. Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492 and Fernando Magellan sailed around the world for the first time from 1519 to 1522. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) shook up the basic ideas about the creation of the world by coming to the realization that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.

The period from 1500-1600 is known in art as the Renaissance, which means “rebirth”. What is meant is the “comeback” of the ideals and the image of man of antiquity. In this era, artists sought harmony, simplicity and comprehensibility, which were also expressed in music. The creation of an order in the tonal system, such as the major and minor keys and the function of the triad and chords, was introduced. Polyphony with the four voices of soprano, alto, tenor and bass became a common form of vocal and instrumental music.

Typical musical forms of the Renaissance are the mass, the motet and the madrigal. The mass is the musical accompaniment to the individual sections of the Catholic service, while the motet and madrigal are polyphonic choral songs. While a motet is a through-composed sacred text, the madrigal is based on a secular text.

The most famous composers of the Renaissance lived or worked in Italy, including Giovanni Palestrina (1515-1594), Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). However, opera as a musical form only emerged in the Baroque era. However, Monteverdi wrote the first opera in music history called “L’Orfeo” in 1607, which is about Orfeo’s tragic love for Euridice.

Among the typical musical instruments that flourished during the Renaissance were the viola da gamba, the lute, the cornett, the rebec and the crumhorn. The pegboxes of the viols were artistically embellished with carvings.

Finally, I would like to emphasize a quote from Luther: “Music is half a discipline and disciplinarian, which makes people gentler and more meek, more modest and more sensible.”


For all those who have difficulties with grammar, there is good news: you can say both “the” and “the” baroque! Now for the bad news: although many composers from this period are still very popular today, the word “baroque” has nothing to do with “rock”. It comes from the Portuguese word “barocco”, which describes irregularly shaped gemstones and pearls.

The Baroque era, which lies between 1600 and the year of Johann Sebastian Bach’s death in 1750, is also known as the “basso continuo era”. The basso continuo was an abbreviated notation for accompaniment, which wrote figures next to the notes in the bass clef. Similar to the chord names used today, this allowed a certain freedom for improvisation.

The influence of the secular nobility and church dignitaries was reflected in magnificent palaces and churches, richly decorated everyday objects and an elaborate style of dress. The music of this period is known as powerful, magnificent and solemn and is still played today on festive occasions, such as the “Christmas Oratorio” by J.S. Bach or the melody of the Eurovision anthem.

Instrumental music became increasingly important in the Baroque period. The term “concerto grosso” refers to an early form of concerto in which solo instruments and orchestra play alternately. The opera was written in Italy around 1600 and was the first to combine music and poetry. The cantata and the oratorio are multi-part pieces of music in which a sacred text is accompanied by music. They consist of arias, recitatives and choral movements and are an important part of vocal music.

The compositions of this period are characterized by musical contrasts created by changes in timbre, melody or dynamics. Ornamental signs such as the appoggiatura, double-stroke, bounce and trill are used to embellish a melody and indicate a particular style of playing to the musician. The Baroque period is known for its ornamentation and elaborate, ornate ornamentation, which can be found in architecture, painting and music.

Viennese Classicism

Imagine you are in a fascinating music lesson with an exciting topic and the class clown makes another inappropriate comment. This is then “classic” in the sense of “typical”. If you ask 100 people to name a famous composer, most of them will say Mozart or Beethoven. Why is that? Well, they are typical “classics”! As Vienna was the center of musical creativity during this time, the period between 1750 and 1830 is referred to as “Viennese Classicism”. The composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), together with Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), are among the most important representatives of this era.

Since the end of the 18th century, a socio-political and economic development of global historical significance has taken place. For example, the invention of the steam engine by James Watt (1768) was an achievement in the course of industrialization, which began around 1750. A significant historical turning point was the French Revolution (1789-1799), which marked the end of corporative society and ushered in the rise of the bourgeoisie.

In connection with these social events, music was no longer only heard at court or in church, but was performed in public places and concert halls in front of a wider, middle-class audience. In contrast to the festive and ornate music of the Baroque era, the music of the Viennese Classical period stands for clarity and simplicity in the sense of “comprehensible” and “unambiguous”. Typical musical forms that reached their peak during the Viennese classical period are characterized by this clarity. The sonata and symphony thus have a clear structure. The sonata is an instrumental piece for solo instruments or groups of instruments and consists of three or four movements, which are usually very different from one another in their form of expression. The symphony is similar in form to the sonata, but is an instrumental work for the full orchestra. The first movement of a sonata follows a fixed form known as sonata form. Joseph Haydn is regarded as the “inventor” of the sonata.

The most frequently used instruments in the Viennese Classical period include the violin, the


and the fortepiano. The fortepiano differs from a modern piano in its wooden frame construction and its strings. However, it is important to note that “Viennese classical music” refers to a specific musical epoch, while the term “classical music” is used for music from all eras, as distinct from “light music”.


The term Romanticism refers to the period in art history between 1830 and 1900 on the one hand and an attitude to life that is perceived as dreamy and also somewhat unrealistic on the other. It is a reality that does not exist and for which one longs. Romantics distance themselves from reality by turning to nature, deep feelings or family. Romantic art therefore features recurring motifs such as wandering, departure, longing and wanderlust. This is connected to the social conditions in the first half of the 19th century, especially after the fall of Napoleon I and the reorganization of the European powers through the Congress of Vienna (1814/15). The period leading up to the revolution in Germany (1848/49) is referred to as the “Restoration”. Despite these tense times, the artists of the time reflected on a romantic attitude to life.

In music, the emphasis on sensations and feelings is expressed through variety and expressiveness. This happens in the music pieces through an increased change in volume and tempo. Detailed musical signs are therefore important to accurately indicate changes in volume or tempo. The symphony orchestra is also enhanced by the use of

brass instruments

to fully exploit the variety of sounds. Romanticism saw the development of program music, which guides the listener musically through a program. This can be a story or a fairy tale, as in the case of the “Peer Gynt Suite” by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Leitmotifs are used to musically convey the content of the program to the listener. One form of program music is the symphonic poem, which is based on sophisticated literary works.



experienced its heyday in the Romantic period and with it the piano-accompanied song, also known as the art song. In contrast to the orally transmitted folk song, the art song needs a composer. Franz Schubert (1797-1828) is considered one of the most famous composers of art songs, as he composed over 600 such songs in his short life. He often set texts or poems by J.W.v. Goethe and F.Schiller to music.

In the Romantic era, art reached an unprecedented technical and stylistic level. In the following period, some artists tried to surpass this high standard with modern means.

Modern times

In the first part of the 20th century, Europe and the world were shaken by two world wars that brought destruction and suffering. People’s way of life also changed considerably as a result of industrialization. As you know, it takes a while to adapt to new external conditions when life goes off the rails. This also applies to art.

During this turbulent period, artists sought new forms of expression or returned to stylistic devices from earlier eras. Many artists were persecuted during the National Socialist era and had to flee, which led to artistic ideas being spread worldwide and sometimes mixed with influences from other cultures.

The modernist era therefore encompasses very different art movements, which are sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another and are often characterized by unconventional forms. This is why modern art can sometimes seem incomprehensible or alienating.

In music, this becomes clear through new compositional techniques. Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) is considered the inventor of the twelve-tone technique, while Claude Debussy (1862-1918) experimented with the whole-tone technique, among other things. In the composition, either all twelve semitones or only the six whole tones of an octave are taken into account, contrary to the existing key principle.

They tried out and experimented a lot when making music. John Cage (1912-1992) prepared his piano to produce extraordinary sounds. With his “Carmina Burana”, Carl Orff (1885-1982) created a work in which he incorporated medieval elements. One of the most influential


of modernism is Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), who began working with electronic music very early on.

The musical instruments were expanded to include

electronic musical instruments

such as synthesizers,



drum computer


electromechanical instruments

such as electric guitar or

Hammond organ

expanded. A significant achievement of mechanization was the invention of the gramophone in 1887, which had an immense influence on the distribution and marketing of music.

Light music

Since the beginning of the 20th century, light music has increasingly come to the fore alongside classical music. The term “light music” was already used in the Romantic period to describe music that could be danced to.

The musical traditions and sensibilities of African slaves in America had a lasting influence on the development of music. The blues emerged from work songs and spirituals in the south of the USA at the end of the 19th century. Ragtime, a style of piano music, emerged at the same time.

Blues and ragtime were forerunners of jazz, which established itself as a musical genre in its own right around 1900. Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) is one of the most famous jazz musicians. The saxophone became very popular with the development of jazz. The


produces its sound through a reed, just like the clarinet. It was invented in 1840 by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax.

Rock’n’roll gave rise to rock music in the 1960s.

rock music

which established itself worldwide from England. Rock music has developed into various styles to this day, which differ in terms of vocals, melody, rhythm and tempo and often reflect a group affiliation. What they have in common is that they are successfully marketed as popular music and appeal to a wide audience. A rock band usually consists of vocals,


electric guitar, bass guitar and often the keyboard.

From Romanticism to New Music

In music history, the modern era is also known by various names such as “new music”, “contemporary music” or “music of the present”. However, the term “New Music” has established itself as a generally valid term for the various musical styles from 1950 to the present day. The transition from Romanticism to New Music was characterized by the influence of the artistic and literary movements of Impressionism (end of the 19th century) and Expressionism (1910-1925). While the Impressionists wanted to convey the sensual perception of reality, the Expressionists confronted their audience with an expressive and passionate view of reality. The French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) is considered the most important representative of Impressionism in music, while Kurt Weill (1900-1950) is one of the main representatives of musical Expressionism.

Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) developed a new compositional technique around 1920, which led to the emergence of twelve-tone music. All twelve semitones of a scale are treated equally and arranged into a row, whereby no note may be repeated. Twelve-tone music is not a musical style, but a compositional method that is described as “atonal” due to its lack of scales and keys. The musical developments around Arnold Schönberg in Vienna are referred to as the “New Viennese School” and influenced the developments of “New Music” from 1950 onwards. A further development of the twelve-tone row technique is serial music, in which not only the pitches, but also the tone length, volume and timbre are determined according to strict mathematical rules and in numerical series. Pierre Boulez (*1925) is a composer of this style of music.

Towards the end of the 1950s, aleatoric music gained importance as a style of New Music, particularly through the work of the American composer John Cage (1912-1992). Aleatoric music (lat. alea = cube) is created by chance and thus crowns the joy of musical experimentation. Minimal music emerged in the USA in the 1960s as a counterpart to atonal music. The basis of these compositions are simple musical motifs (patterns) that are constantly repeated over a longer period of time and are only minimally varied in the course of the piece. The American composer Philip Glass (*1937) is one of the best-known representatives of musical minimalism.