The history of music is the study of different traditions in music and their arrangement in time.
Since every known culture has had some form of musical manifestation, the history of music encompasses all societies and eras, and is not limited, as has become customary in the West, where the expression “history of music” has been used to refer to the history of European music and its evolution in the Western world.
The music of a culture is closely related to other aspects of culture, such as economic organisation, technical development, the attitude of composers and their relationship to listeners, the more generalised aesthetic ideas of each community and the vision of the role of art in society, as well as the biographical variants of each author.
In its broadest sense, music is born with the human being, and was already present, according to some studies, long before the extension of the human being by the planet, more than 50 000 years ago. It is therefore a universal cultural manifestation.
The history of music is divided into several periods that are:
- Middle Ages
- Twentieth and twenty-first century
MUSIC IN PREHISTORY (50 000 B.C.-5000 B.C.)
The intimate relationship between the human species and music has been demonstrated, and while some traditional interpretations linked its emergence to intellectual activities linked to the concept of the supernatural (making it fulfil a function of superstitious, magical or religious purpose), today it is related to mating rituals and to collective work.
For primitive man there were two signs that showed the separation between life and death: movement and sound. The rites of life and death are developed in this double key. In the so-called prehistoric art, dance and song merge as symbols of life, while stillness and silence are formed as symbols of death.
Primitive man found music in nature and in his own voice. He also learned to use rudimentary objects (bones, reeds, trunks, shells…) to produce sounds.
There is evidence that around 3000 B.C. in Sumeria they already had percussion and string instruments (lyre and harp). Ancient cultic songs were rather lamentations on poetic texts.
In prehistory, music appears in hunting or war rituals and in festivals where, around fire, people danced until exhaustion. The music is based mainly on rhythms and movements that imitate animals. The musical manifestations of man consist in the exteriorization of his feelings through the sound emanating from his own voice and in order to distinguish it from the speech he uses to communicate with other beings.
The first instruments were objects, utensils or man’s own body that could produce sounds. These instruments can be classified into:
- Autophones: those that produce sounds by means of the matter with which they are built. They are percussion instruments; for example, bone against stone.
- Membranophones: series of instruments simpler than those made by man. Drums: made with a tight membrane, on a coconut, any container or a real and authentic sounding board.
- Cordophones: they are those of string; for example, the harp.
- Aerophones: the sound originates in them by vibrations of an air column. One of the first instruments is the flute, originally built with a bone with holes.
MUSIC OF THE MIDDLE AGES (476-1450)
The origins of medieval music are confused with the latest developments in late Roman music. The evolution of musical forms attached to worship was resolved at the end of the sixth century in the so-called Gregorian chant.
The profane monodic music began with the so-called goliardos songs (11th and 12th centuries) and reached its maximum expression with the music of the menestrelli, minstrels, troubadours and troubadours, together with the German minnesinger.
With the appearance in the 13th century of the Nôtre-Dame school in Paris, polyphony reached a high degree of systematization and underwent a great transformation in the 14th century with the so-called Ars Nova, which constituted the basis from which humanism was used for the process that culminated in Renaissance music.
THE GREGORIAN CHANT
Gregorian chant is a liturgical chant of the Catholic Church. It is used as an expression and message within worship and also as a means of religious expression.
The main general characteristics of this musical style are the following: they are usually works of unknown author, they are sung only by men, monody sung a capella without instrumental ornaments, they are works written in Latin cult, the rhythm is free, the scope of its interpretation is reduced to few people, the melody moves degrees and the so-called eight Gregorian modes.
These monodic songs can be classified according to: the moment of the liturgy or the day in which they are interpreted, according to the literary incipit they can be hymns, psalms, songs of praise, etc.; according to the model of interpretation, if they are of soloist or congregatory tract.
THE RENAISSANCE (1450-1600)
Renaissance music or renaissance music is European classical music written during the Renaissance, between the years 1400 and 1600, approximately. The stylistic characteristics that define Renaissance music are its polyphonic texture, which follows the laws of counterpoint, and is governed by the modal system inherited from Gregorian chant.
Among its most widespread musical forms are mass and motet in the religious genre, madrigal, villancico and chanson in the profane genre, and dances, ricercare and canzona in instrumental music. Among the most outstanding composers of this period are Josquin Desprez, Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso and Tomás Luis de Victoria.
Renaissance music is characterized by a soft sonority that derives from the acceptance of the third as a consonant harmonic interval (joining in this category to fifths and octaves, already admitted in the Middle Ages) and the progressive increase in the number of voices, all of equal importance and governed by the rules of counterpoint: independence of voices, preparation and resolution of dissonances.
The prototype of a Renaissance musical work is a vocal piece with a polyphonic texture, often imitative, written for between three and six cantabile voices; each melodic line or voice could be interpreted indistinctly with real voices or with instruments.
Although the range of each line barely exceeds the octave, the general extension of the ensemble goes well beyond the two octaves, avoiding the crossing between the voices (which forced them to be heterogeneous and contrasting in medieval polyphony).