History of Western Music

History of Western Music


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Prepared for students by renowned professors and noted experts, here are the most extensive and proven study aids available, covering all the major areas of study in college curriculums. Each guide features: up-to-date scholarship; an easy-to-follow narrative outline form; specially designed and formatted pages; and much more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780064671071
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/14/1991
Series: College Outline Series
Edition description: Subsequent
Pages: 324
Sales rank: 789,403
Product dimensions: 7.37(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.73(d)

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586 B.C.  Sacadas plays aulos at Pythian Games

ca. 500 B.C.  Pythagoras determines ratios of musical intervals

ca. 380 B.C.  Plato discourses on music in the Republic

ca. 370 B.C.  The books of the Old Testament reach their present form

ca. 330 B.C.  Aristotle's Politics discusses music education

ca. 320 B.C.  Aristoxenus finishes the Harmonics (oldest extant Greek musical treatise)

ca. 130 B.C.  Composition of the two "Delphic Hymns"

ca. 30 A.D.  Jesus crucified

first century A.D.  "Epitaph of Seikolos" composed

second century A.D.  "Hymn to Nemesis," "Hymn to the Sun," and "Hymn to the Muse Calliope" composed by Mesomedes of Crete

ca. 200 A.D.  Athenaeus's Sophists at Dinner includes dialogue on music

fourth century A.D.  Aristides Quintilianus, the last theorist of Greek music

We do not know precisely how or when music began. Perhaps in prehistoric times man used primitive forms of drums and trumpets for signaling. Hemay have found these sounds pleasing to the ear and began to use them tocreate music. Another theory is that music developed from the natural urgeto accompany human movement with rhythmic sounds, which graduallybecame musical creations. Song may have also evolved from the spontaneousvocal expression of anger, fear, anguish, and joy.

Relatively little is known about the music of Antiquity (from prehistoric times to about 200 A.D.). We know that music existed in many ancient civilizations, and there is substantial evidence on musical life in ancient Egypt and China. It is likely that,some of the musical traditions of Antiquity influenced European musical heritage in important ways. The one about which we know the most and that has most directly influenced the theoretical basis of Western music is that of Ancient Greece.


Our knowledge of the music of Antiquity is seriously limited by the ephemeral nature of the musical medium, unlike ancient pictorial art, architecture, or literature. Notation is a method for preserving information about sound, but it was not fully developed in Antiquity. The few bits of extant music notated before the birth of Christ are mostly indecipherable.

We have gathered information about ancient music in four ways. (1) Pictorial representations of musical activity, especially those of people playing instruments, tell us something about the music of Antiquity. These images certainly confirm the existence of music making. (2) Several important writers have recorded their ideas about music and noted the rules of its construction. Literary sources constitute our best information about ancient music. (3) A considerable number of instruments have been excavated from the sites of ancient culture. Analysis of them yields conclusions about scales, modes, and social function. (4) Ethnomusicology, the study of non-Western systems of music, provides some insight into ancient practices. For example, by studying mature folk cultures (Indian, Middle Eastern, Persian, etc.) that were directly influenced by the ancient Greeks, scholars have been able to draw conclusions about the music of Antiquity.

Though we possess no definite knowledge of how the music actually sounded, we can make certain generalizations about the practice of music in ancient times.


It is unlikely that ancient music was an independent art created solelyfor the pleasure of casual listening. Rather, it seems to have been an adjunctto other activities, such as dancing and ritual.


It is generally believed that the music of Antiquity, like that of manyaboriginal cultures today, was monophonic. That is, it was comprised of asingle melodic line without accompaniment or harmonic support.


Probably all ancient musical cultures encouraged the musician to improvise. Skill in performance was to some degree a function of the musician's ability to alter, vary, and ornament a melody. This helps explain why so little music was notated.

Powers of Music

Ancient man seems generally to have believed that music had mystic and magical powers capable of affecting his life, character, and well-being. References to this aspect of music are found in abundance in the literature of the ancients.



The music of Antiquity about which we know most and that has mostprofoundly influenced European musical concepts, theories, and aestheticsis that of Greece. The word "music" itself comes from Greece, as do manyother musical terms, such as tetrachord, lyric, rhythm, polyphony, and hymn.Present knowledge of Greek music is based on a wealth of extant literatureand pictorial evidence, although little music is preserved in notation.


Greek music was largely monophonic. If the melody was sung or playedby two performers, most likely the accompanying line sounded simultaneously as an elaborated version of the primary melody. This texture is called heterophony. Most music was improvised and heavily ornamented. The performer's ability to embellish a melody was a critical aspect of skill. Greek music was inseparable from poetry and drama and was important in mythology and in ceremonial rites.


Two cults dominated musical concepts: (1) the cult of Apollo, whichused the kithara (a plucked string instrument), was characterized by clarityand simplicity of form and restraint of emotional expression; and (2) the cultof Dionysus, which used the aulos (a double-pipe reed instrument), wascharacterized by subjectivity and emotional expression. These two conceptshave played varying roles in the subsequent development of Western music.

Doctrine of Ethos

Aristotle and Plato, among others, articulated a doctrine of ethos, inwhich music was stated to have a direct and profound influence on character.They believed music could imitate two general states of being (peacefulness;excitement and enthusiasm) and inculcate them in the listener. Factors thatdetermined a particular musical ethos were its rhythm, mode, and theinstrument employed. History of Western Music. Copyright © by Hugh M. Miller. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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