History of music

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The history of music includes, among other things, the development of the song and the melody , the rhythm , the musical instruments , of the harmony and polyphony , the harmony and the development of literacy and reproduction (music as a system of signs and notation ). Music also developed a variety of representations, styles, and aesthetics .

Early developments

The anatomical prerequisites for a differentiated singing probably developed around two million years ago when the upright gait prevailed with Homo ergaster . As a result, the larynx sank. At the same time, the chewing apparatus receded due to the change in diet to more carnal food, the oral cavity became larger and was able to produce a wider range of sounds. Some scholars see the origins of music as a communicative adaptation to life in larger social groups. Others, such as Geoffrey F. Miller, however, suspect that human musicality is a characteristic that has developed mainly through sexual selection . New approaches assume that both factors played a role. The oldest musical instruments found worldwide to date are flutes , which are 40,000 years old. If one counts the human voice as a musical instrument, it was certainly used for the production of music much earlier.

The Neolithic era brought the first earthen instruments, among which there were shape rattles in human and animal forms. In the Bronze Age , when advanced cultures were already developing in the Near East, the first metallurgical work was carried out. Remains of metal jewelry of past animal horns belong, also bronze horns in animal horn shape that Nordic circle found Luren . Those were always paired and in the same, sometimes even fixed mood , which may have served both to amplify the sound and to play chords . Other metalwork included rattle plates and sound bars .

Analogous to the formation of scales, the music historian John Frederick Rowbotham differentiated in his History of music (1885–87) the stages of development of archaic music according to the ambitus used . Before Terpandros , the creator of Greek poetry in the 7th century, only the range of a tetrachord, i.e. H. a fourth , which Plutarch confirmed in his dialogue about music as a sign of older cultural epochs. However, this classification is not to be regarded as generally valid, since in the music of other ethnic groups, e.g. For example, among the indigenous peoples of North America , Australia and Oceania, there are also chord breakdowns over a large tonal space.

Myths of origin

Most of the world's peoples understand the making of music as the work of gods and spirits, supernatural or historically intangible persons. There is a multitude of origin myths .

According to Hindu belief , Brahma, the god of language, is also the creator of music. His son Narada rules over them. Shiva is ascribed the invention of the musical bow , Sarasvati the invention of the scale. The Hindus explain the multitude of ragas through a legend according to which many shepherdesses ( gopis ) tried to charm the flute-playing Krishna with their own melodies.

According to Chinese mythology , the scale was a gift from a miracle bird. In ancient Egypt , Thoth , the god of writing, was the creator of music from the sound of words. Hathor was the goddess of dance, song and art. The Greeks considered the son of the Muses Orpheus to be the creator of music and dance. The singer is said to have touched gods and people, animals and plants with his music and even made stones cry.

In the Arab world , legend has it that the camel driver Maudar ibn Nizar fell from his mount and broke his hand. In his pain, he called to the camels and made them run again, from which the song arose. The West African peoples of Niger believe that people learned the music from forest spirits. A giantess carried all the music in the world in her stomach, the demons revealed it to them in individual songs.

The mythical connection between music and blacksmithing is a concept that appears in many ethnic groups. According to biblical tradition, Jubal is the progenitor of musicians ( Gen 4,19-22  LUT ). His half-brother Tubal-Cain is the ancestor of the forge. Even in the Middle Ages, both areas are mentioned together. Based on a treatise by the ancient mathematician Nicomachus von Gerasa , Guido von Arezzo explained that Pythagoras invented music when he heard a blacksmith at work (see Pythagoras in the forge ).

In the Aztec myths , a person took music from the sun at the command of a god. Peoples with animistic ideas such as the Eskimo believe that the melodies were conveyed to the people at the beginning of time by necromancy. Other indigenous peoples, such as the Seneca, associate the making of music with a visit to a god in human form or with the gift of the first instrument that is venerated as sacred.

Epochs of Music

In music, an "epoch" is a period in which stylistic similarities prevailed.

Any musical epoch concept is to be regarded as problematic, however, as it gives the impression that different styles have immediately and completely replaced each other in history. This leads to problems of demarcation, because in fact there were always simultaneous stylistic trends that had little in common (often also contradicting each other), flowing transitions, only regionally significant styles, etc. B. believes that Viennese Classic and Romanticism form a great epoch with an inner variety of styles.

The conventional classification of European music history is mostly as follows:

Cultural development

With the differentiation of the social groups, the roles of shaman or medicine man emerged, later a priest-kingship emerged. Chants, sounds and rhythms also served at early stages of culture to (magically) expel demons and to create well-being. With the increasing variety and the technically improved construction of instruments, music gradually broke away from the cultic bond. Their structures became more ordered and scales began to form, central tones and intervals emerged as the first signs of harmonic relationships, consonance and dissonance principles with fifths and fourths as leading intervals regulated the harmony.

Sami shaman with his shaman's drum . Engraving by O. H. von Lode (1767).

The selection and order from the tone stock led to tri-, hepta- and pentatonic scales . The latter two are still the dominant scale models: seven levels in the Middle East and Europe, and five levels in East Asia . The composition was predominantly heterophonic or showed the first approaches to parallel guidance , canon and imitation forms , but above all to sounding drone tones that created a fixed mood and a harmonious framework and at the same time required. The rhythmic structure followed almost exclusively the original principle of lifting and lowering, which can be derived from the body movement of walking. Beats, number and grouping again followed the two-part structure, which was expanded to four, eight, sixteen etc. elements, as is still the case today in period construction . Repetition, contrast, variation and continuity determined the melodic-rhythmic structure as the primary elements of the design.

Ancient oriental cultures

Sumerian stand lyre . The sound box of the head-high instrument is bull-shaped. Later, the symbol of a fertility god was reduced in size and used as decoration on the instruments. Illustration after a cylinder seal

The Sumerians cultivated the ritual music of the state priest musicians, which was sung, sometimes with instrumental accompaniment, but never purely instrumental. In doing so, genres were formed according to the functions - lamentations, hymns of the gods - for which individual groups of musicians were responsible. The drums used in rituals included head- high frame drums and kettle drums such as the large bronze drum Lilissu, which was played from the beginning of the 2nd millennium .

Assyrian bent bow harp. The instruments had four to seven strings and a small sound body. Depiction based on an Assyrian relief

The Babylonians and Assyrians , who died around 1800 BC. . Chr competed the legacy of the Sumerians, who stand harp reduced to supporting harp and ran the pick one that allowed a more accurate rhythmic game. The further development were long-necked lutes . New wind instruments were the double aleos , flutes and trumpets with curved tubes. From the finger holes you can deduce a five- to seven-step scale. At the same time, the Assyrians enlarged the ensembles - a relief in the palace of Assurbanipal finally showed a procession of eleven instrumentalists and 15 singers - and began to develop secular art music.

Musicians on a basalt relief from Zincirli , 8th century BC BC as a testimony to late Hittite music , Istanbul Archaeological Museum


The pipa is one of the most traditional instruments in Chinese music. Representation from the Tang Dynasty

China , which dates back to the 3rd millennium BC. A high culture built up, already had a fully developed music in antiquity. The Chinese got the most important suggestions from the West, especially from Mesopotamia. Own inventions were a scale system based on numerical ratios, pentatonic scales and a fixed pitch tuning. As early as the Xia dynasty (approx. 2200–1800 BC), the forerunners of the Qin , a five-string vaulted board zither, appeared. The compositions were unanimous and homophonic , which should change only marginally in the course of history.

In the Shang dynasty , drums, vessel and reed flutes and bronze bells were added. The Confucianism ordered both the quint zirkel similar key system with the Yin-Yang -Unterscheidung "female" and "male" scale and the cosmological oriented music theory . Styles, genres and use of instruments were precisely defined. During the Zhou dynasty, music in its ethical and educational effect on people moved into the focus of state and social philosophy. The music was regulated by the state, the official aesthetic view followed the views of the respective emperor. Around 300 BC Seven -point scales are developed. Important sources of music theory in Confucianism are the Book of Songs and the Book of Rites . The book of rites records the systematization of musical instruments according to material categories ( bāyīn ): metal, stone, fur, pumpkin , bamboo , wood, silk and earth. The most important innovations were the lithophones , flutes and mouth organs with up to 17 pipes.

The restorative Han dynasty at the turn of the century opened up Chinese music further to Western influences. The aulos came to China, as did the lute as a pipa . The first systematic notation was developed. The imperial music office collected and archived documents of early music, cultivated cult, court, military and folk music and had its own foreign departments.


The goddess Saraswati holds a vina in her hand. Wood carving

There are only guesses about the music of the Indus culture in the third millennium BC. She may have taken inspiration from Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures. Due to the immigration of the Aryans, who are related to the Greeks, around 1500 BC. Western influences came to India. The Vedic cult, which was initially reserved for the Brahmins and was not until 200 BC , emerged from the two cultures . The lower box was open. In the last Vedic script, the Nātyaveda , the first records of the music of India can be found. The view of music resembled the Greek unity of music, language, dance and gesture ; it was viewed as a form of theater . According to Vedic ideas, cult music was strictly separated from art, folk and popular music; The former was subject to the god Brahma , the latter to Shiva .

The tone system 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 auditory impression; This is where Indian music deviates from its Greek models. From this set of tones - analogous to the European tones major and minor - seven-step scale models are formed. A very differentiated gradation differentiates between consonant and dissonant intervals. Parallel to the Greek modal keys , which are based on changing basic tones of the same scale, the ragas form the basic structure of the melody. Like the Greek modes, ragas not only have a tonal character, they are also assigned times of the day and seasons, occasions for playing, affects and ethical principles that must be taken into account when choosing the “right” scale.

The rhythm is also modal. Its elements are single, double and triple tone durations (to which half and quarter values ​​are added in some types of music), which are formed into talas , fixed rhythm sequences with a regulated emphasis on the tone durations. The basic pulse of the music meets again in the first beat, while the overlapping of different accents within a bar can result in polyrhythmics .

The oldest instruments were flutes and drums. Vinas as a collective name for a group of string instruments are already described in the oldest Vedas. Persian sounds such as the tar , which became the long-necked tanpura and, in the 18th century, the short-necked sarod via the intermediate stage Rubab , came to the Indian culture from the west . During the Mughal period , the Persian Shehnai replaced older Indian species of shawm. A rich inventory of wind, string and percussion instruments developed on Indian soil.

Vedic cult music is unanimous and purely vocal. It essentially consists of a text recitation on three adjacent pitches. With the spread of Islam to northern India in the 14th century, it was pushed back, but was retained by the southern Indian peoples. From 1500 onwards, the Vedic culture, its music and the standard Sanskrit language were only practiced by an intellectual upper class. In the following centuries, two different styles of music were clearly distinguished from one another: the strict Dhrupad style, whose musicians were highly revered, with the rod zither Rudra Vina as the main instrument and the male singing voice, and the freer Khyal style, which is also sung by women and was often accompanied by the string sarangi .

Old Egypt

The music of ancient Egypt is documented in hieroglyphic inscriptions , grave decorations and musical instruments as grave goods. The pre-dynastic period produced rattles, rattles, mouthpiece-less flutes and simple trumpets. The music was still devoted to cult, the magic dance was mask or weapon dance.

Egyptian bow harp of the Old Kingdom. The tailpiece is still shaped like a large musical bow, the seven strings run into a sound post on the resonator below. This makes it possible to retune the instrument. Depiction after a burial chamber painting

The Old Kingdom , which was founded around 2700 BC. Began, expanded the range of instruments to include the bow harp, which in its elongated form was still clearly reminiscent of the musical bow and only had a small resonance body. During this time secular music, which was played at festivals, emancipated itself. In addition to vocal and mixed ensembles, there was for the first time pure instrumental music in different formations. Women of the higher social classes were also able to dance and make music on harp and flute. Reliefs in the burial chambers suggest polyphonic music, similar to the Assyrian wind instruments, the finger holes indicate five- and seven-step scales. The first culture the Old Kingdom in addition to a rudimentary existing developed notation the Chironomie : a conductor equal to the Director gave an ensemble tone steps and rhythm through well-defined hand gestures and arm positions.

After the end of the Middle Kingdom , in the Second Intermediate Period , Egypt took up suggestions from the Near Eastern Hyksos . They introduced from the Bedouin culture originating lyre one that Sistrum in the form that still present a cult instrument of the Coptic Church is, after all, double skin drums. The latter accompanied the wild jumping dances that the Hyksos brought with them from the east; they replaced the measured step and figure dances of the Old Kingdom.

A final innovation of the Hyksos was the shawl-like double aaulos, which was common in the New Kingdom and which eventually became a Greek instrument. The musical culture flourished, individual genres according to their functions established themselves as dance, military and cult music. The instruments allowed virtuoso playing, especially on the technically evolving harp, which was played as shoulder, angle, bow and standing harp and because of a larger resonance box, up to twelve strings and elaborate decorations, the most important instrument in Egyptian musical art Epoch was. A long-necked lute with frets completed the set of instruments. In the time of the New Kingdom, small-scale scales developed that were later adopted by classical Arabic music . Also drone tones were blown on the double instruments.

The late period brought the darbuka and basin types to Egypt. In the era of restoration , musical thinking viewed the old art of the past centuries as exemplary and as a moral educational goal.

Palestine and Syria

Hurrian hymn to the goddess Nikkal around 1400 BC BC, from the Royal Palace of Ugarit
The Phoenician lyre was one of the most popular instruments. It was often played together with a double wind instrument and frame drum. Depiction after a stone relief
The kinnor was the lyre given in the Psalms of David as an eight-string accompanying instrument for the singer. The player uses an opening pick to pluck the strings. Representation from Old Testament time

For a long time, Palestine was in constant cultural exchange with its neighboring regions. Phoenicians and Hebrews were the dominant peoples of the country.

The Phoenicians are considered to be the actual inventors of the double aus in the 2nd millennium; it is not certain whether they also built the psaltery first. Their inventory of instruments included a double wind instrument, lyre and frame drum that came from Mesopotamia. In the city of Ugarit , clay tablets with Hurrian hymns , which represent the oldest musical notations in the world, have been found.

The music of the Hebrews , which is primarily documented by Old Testament sources, began in the early days of Israeli history up to around 1000 BC. It essentially corresponded to the Egyptian culture as the Israelites had got to know before the Exodus . The first instruments were the kinnor, a halyard with five to nine strings, and the shofar , which is still handed down to this day ; both were intended for ritual use in the temple . In addition there were longitudinal flutes and numerous percussion instruments based on Mesopotamian models.

In the royal period (from around 1000) the Jews took over some instruments of foreign origin, the double shawm, the angle harp and zither-like plucked instruments from Phenicia. A professional musicianship developed under the Levites , who performed 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 empire according to Solomon (926-587), synagogal music developed based on the Psalms of David . They eventually became the starting point for early Christian music.


The mathematical and rational conception of music is traced back to Pythagoras , to whom the discovery of interval proportions is ascribed to the legend Pythagoras in the forge ; Plato and Aristotle are considered to be the founders of the philosophy of music because of their preoccupation with the aesthetic effect . With Aristoxenos ' distinction between theoretical teaching and practical music practice, the differentiation between science and art, rational knowledge and sensory perception begins , which in the epochs of Western music history each experienced its own evaluation and in which one of the two sides was in the foreground.

Claudius Ptolemy on a representation of Luca della Robbias on the tower of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

The ancient music literature produced numerous attempts at definition, two of which are particularly important. In the 2nd century, Claudius Ptolemy played an intermediary role between Aristoxenus and Euclid in the harmonica . He described the music as "(...) the ability to recognize the differences between high and low notes" . Aristeides Quintilianus, on the other hand, describes it as a "(...) science of melos and of that which belongs to melos" . The Ptolemaic definition is quoted verbatim in Porphyrios , among others , the Aristidic in Iulius Pollux and Michael Psellos . It is common to all provisions that they put the musical material, the scale , and its mathematical foundations in the center and understand them as the nature of the tone structure.

Boëthius (left) and Pythagoras (right), who were understood as the fathers of music in the Middle Ages, argue about the “definition” of music using arithmetic means. Boëthius has already solved the problem through (then) modern mathematics and receives the encouragement from Ms. Arithmetica. Illustration of Margarita Philosophia (1504) by Gregor Reisch

Two other late antique definitions have a broader meaning. Augustine of Hippo early work De musica determined "Musica est scientia bene module andi" (about: "Music is the art of the clock to keep"). In De institutione musica des Boëthius , the author ties in with Ptolemy: “Musica est facultas differentias acutorum et gravium sonorum sensu ac ratione perpendens” (for example: “Music is the ability to accurately distinguish between high and low notes with sense and spirit to be measured "). The definition of Augustine was taken literally by Pietro Cerone and Athanasius Kircher , that of Boëthius also literally by Hieronymus of Prague , Franchinus Gaffurius , Gregor Reisch and Glarean . For the first time, music was also described as an acoustic phenomenon that can be penetrated by reason as well as sensually perceived .

Modern times

Johann Mattheson, composer and theorist, copper engraving by Johann Jacob Haid

As in the definitions of antiquity, the dialectical relationship between science and art practice and the resulting dual function of music emerged in the Baroque period . In this sense, Johann Mattheson expressed it in The Perfect Capellmeister (1739): “Musica is a science and art of cleverly arranging skilful and pleasant sounds, fitting them together correctly, and bringing them out in a lovely way, thereby bringing the glory of God through their woolen fabric and all virtues are promoted. ” He combined emotion and rationality in his musical view. During the Baroque era, the doctrine of affect stylized and systematized emotions.

Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg's Der critische Musicus an der Spree (1750) made a clearer differentiation : “The word music denotes the science or art of sound; it is a science insofar as its rules can be proven for certain reasons, an art insofar as the established rules can be brought to reality. ” And even in the contemporary definitions which described euphony and beauty as the essence of music, the rationalist one was Zeitgeist evident; Leonhard Euler formulated in 1739: “Musica est scientia varios sonos ita conjungendi, ut auditui gratam exhibeant harmoniam” (“Music is the science of combining different tones in such a way that they present a lovely harmony to the ear”).

Arthur Schopenhauer finally gave music a central position in his major work Die Welt als Wille und Zeiten (1819):

“Music is by no means, like the other arts, the image of ideas ; it is an image of the will itself, the objectivity of which is also the ideas: that is why the effect of music is so much more powerful and haunting than that of the other arts: because these only speak of shadow , but they speak of essence . "

- Arthur Schopenhauer : The world as will and idea

In 1849 Richard Wagner's work The Art and the Revolution saw the term Gesamtkunstwerk . This idea was mainly influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer's idea that art and music can be summarized under the term aesthetics .


  • Guido Adler : Handbook of Music History . Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt 1924. Reprint of the 2nd edition in 1930. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-423-04039-4
  • Kurt Honolka , (Ed.): Knaurs Weltgeschichte der Musik . 2 vol. Munich: Droemersche Verlagsanstalt, 2nd edition 1979. ISBN 3-426-03610-X
  • Anne Draffkorn Kilmer: The Strings of Musical Instruments: their Names, Numbers, and Significance , Studies in Honor of Benno Landsberger = Assyriological Studies xvi (1965), 261–68.
  • Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, Miguel Civil: Old Babylonian Musical Instructions Relating to Hymnody , Journal of Cuneiform Studies , xxxviii (1986), 94-98.
  • Robert Lach : The music of the natural and oriental cultures . In: Guido Adler (Ed.): Handbuch der Musikgeschichte , pp. 3–34
  • Ulrich Michels: Dtv atlas to music . Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag and Kassel / Basel / Tours / London: Bärenreiter 1977. ISBN 3-423-03022-4
  • Steven Mithen : The singing Neanderthals - The origin of music, language, mind and body . London, 2006.
  • Kurt Reinhard : Music in primeval times . In: Kurt Honolka (Ed.): Knaurs Weltgeschichte der Musik , Vol. 1, pp. 9–23
  • ML West: The Babylonian Musical Notation and the Hurrian Melodic Texts. In: Music & Letters , lxxv, No. 2, May 1994, pp. 161-79.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Mithen, 2006, pp. 178f
  2. Gabor Paál offers a good overview: The sister of language - How man discovered music. (Audio) SWR 2, broadcast on December 15, 2008
  3. ^ Walter Willems (dpa / boj): Origin of Music The greatest hits of the Stone Age (November 8, 2017). Retrieved January 24, 2020 .
  4. Laugh p. 5
  5. MGG-S, Vol. 6, Col. 1422 f.
  6. ^ Werner Friedrich Kümmel: Music and Medicine. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 1018.
  7. Reinhard, pp. 11 and 12
  8. Reinhard p. 12
  9. Reinhard p. 14
  10. Reinhard p. 15
  11. dtv-Atlas p. 169
  12. Reinhard p. 21
  13. dtv-Atlas p. 167
  14. Reinhard, p. 16
  15. Reinhard p. 17
  16. Reinhard, p. 18
  17. dtv-Atlas p. 165
  18. http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/music/syrian-tablet-fragment-shatters-long-held-beliefs-about-origin-of-music#full
  19. dtv-Atlas p. 163
  20. a b MGG-S, Vol. 6, Col. 1198
  21. Johann Mattheson: The perfect Capellmeister . Hamburg 1739. p. 5
  22. ^ Leonhard Euler: Tentamen novae theoriae musicae ex certissimis harmoniae principiis dilucide expositae . St. Petersburg 1739. Chap. 3 De musica in genere , § 1, 7
  23. Arthur Schopenhauer: The world as will and idea . Leipzig 1819. Vol. 1, § 52