Professional / Performing Arts Essay


History of Western Music

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything”. — Plato

In simpler words, according to the great philosopher, music is life and without it, there'll be no meaning.

And, so critical in the evolution of sounds, rhythms, melodies and so on, is the Western music; an arrangement of instruments and sounds created majorly by Europeans, Americans, and some other European societies around the world.

Truth be told, the music of the West has so much developed over time to become what we are all naturally inclined to describe as “good music”. We can't separate the evolutionary development of European music from itself, which is why, in this article, we'll be discussing the major developments of Western music. Notable events from the beginning, when the music was a strange art, to date, when it has become something every individual appreciates, shall also be discussed.

The Start!

Historically, Western music dates back to ancient Rome and Greece, especially to the days of Pythagoras the mathematician, and the popular Greek dramatists, Aristophanes and Sophocles. These great men formed the foundation of music, especially Aristophanes and Sophocles who combined it with theater.

The beginning of Western music brought many groundbreaking changes that are still present until this present time. For example, it was during this period that many musical instruments, especially those presently used in classical music, were introduced: the cornu harp, lyre, and harp, are some of the important instruments that were created and used; in their plays and all the different festivals of the time.

It was at this time that different musical elements and techniques were also developed. Musical notations were also created during this period to make visual representations of sounds and instruments. All these periodical developments in Western music paved the way for the establishment and growth of the genre from one time to another time.

The Church's Role

Just as the church took over the monarchy in Europe during the medieval period, after Rome fell, it also took over virtually all the areas in the society as well. Art, especially, was replaced with Christianity and people were forced to drop their budding interests in music for the things of God.

The church banned anything that had to do with secularity. Musical instruments that were viewed as a promotion of the pagan culture were also banned, and this had quite an influence in downplaying the significance music had in the affairs of people during and prior to that period.

Despite this, some significant developments also occurred.

The church, after some time, discovered that music truly was really powerful, and could be useful in propagating its gospel. It was eventually integrated. Plainchant, a one melody Latin music, was introduced.

As a result of the church's ban on the use of pagan instruments, a new style emerged. And this is the Acappella; a term used in describing a beautiful song unaccompanied by drums or any other sounds or instruments. Acappella, now, has grown to become what everyone wants to listen to anytime it's been sung. For many, Acappella comes as a form of relief and relaxation in times of trouble.

During this period also, musical notations (or neumes) were also developed by Gregorian monks. Shapes and symbols were introduced to represent sounds and qualities. Until present, these notes are still visible in the modern notes. Polyphony, the combination of more than one melody in a song, came later in the century.

Undeniably, the church was responsible for the spread of music from one European society to another, and eventually to the world at large. Notable forms though which this was possible is the Gregorian chant or plainchant, as mentioned earlier, of which people used for prayers and meditation.


Between 1450 and 1600, people started to realize new things and rediscover old ones. A 'rebirth' of ideas and innovation started to take place in all ramifications. There's a turnaround from the doctrines of the church. Music was not left out on this journey! New things were introduced while old ones were reformed to fit the crime.

The printing press was introduced during this period, and this was significantly responsible for the sustainable development that was experienced in the industry. Printing made it easier to document and transfer music. Different styles were introduced by different revolutionary thinkers and composers of the time.

The Gregorian chant evolved to become a combination of more fascinating melodies all together. Secular music grew, even among the wealthy, such that composers were paid for their performances. Polyphony also developed and became a widely accepted art in the Renaissance period.

Despite this revolutionary shift in this period, the church music still retained its essence and popularity.

More elaborate embellishments came into music during the baroque, classical and romantic periods. Generally, these periods are known by scholars to be the time when people's interest in decorations and frisky additions increased. Music became more complex and interesting during the climes.

Famous composers like Hendel and Bach Mozart, and the likes, made their mark with unique arrangements of complex and highly elaborate sounds.

Two popular forms were also introduced, the concerto and sonata. These styles heavily rely on the cello and violin, which are two popular instruments in present-day classical music.

Different new instruments were also created. These instruments were very useful in the expansion of the soul of music. Bass was created. Glass harmonica was also improved by Benjamin Franklin.

Mozart created his symphony, first of its kind during this period.

Significantly, Waltz, a popular style that emerged from Vienna and still has a quite strong impact in the industry was introduced. Other styles like the Native American Polyphony and Opera, using music to tell a story, were developed and retained.


It was in the 20th century that music started to make more waves. New vibes were created out of the traditional genres; Jazz, rock, electronic, blues, and a host of other innovative styles emerged.

The technology was one of the things that contributed to the rapid evolution of music as well. Ideas and perspectives on life changed and so did the direction of musicHistory of Western Music, to capture more people all over the world.

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