I'd like to know in what period/year chords were invented and by whom.

Did musicians like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven think in chords to harmonize their melodies or did chords only emerge in the 1900s?

note: this is a secondary question to my question Why aren't chords written in classical sheet music? one of the commenters said that chords weren't invented during that time, which was very surprising for me to hear. so I want to know when they were invented.

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    The comment in the other question is that chord names hadn’t been invented. Chords being played and heard likely dates back at least to Ancient Greece. If you count only two notes as a chord, then the aulos was used to play two note chords as early as 5000 years ago! Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 2:39
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    As others have mentioned, it depends on your definition of "chord". Certainly chorales were full of what we would consider chords, but the were treated as a collection of "voices", each leading to its own resolution. That's why they had such strict rules regarding intervallic movement.
    – ScottM
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 7:03

1 Answer 1


It depends on how you define "chords," but I assume you mean "tertian sonorities" like triads and seventh chords.

If so, the music theorist Johannes Lippius discussed the "harmonic triad" in his Synopsis musicae novae (Synopsis of New Music) in 1612. In a quote from this article:

The concept of triadic generation and invertibility, so clearly and firmly established by Johannes Lippius in 1610 and again in 1612, constitutes a milestone in the history of harmonic theory.

In that same article, the author makes a case that Ramos de Pareja preceded Lippius. In his Musica practica of 1482, Ramos discussed fixing the intonation of thirds and sixths in order to create triadic structures.

  • hmm, in my last question, @alephzero said that chords weren't invented in the Baroque period. but according to you it seems they were.
    – user34288
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 19:13
  • So I assume (until someone tells me different) that Bach, for example, knew every little thing there is to know about chords when composing his music.
    – user34288
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 19:36
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    Don't misquote me. I said the modern concept of chord notation wasn't invented in the Baroque period. Well, actually it was invented during the Baroque period, and first published in a book written by Rameau in 1744 - and that book was widely considered to be avant-garde nonsense when it first appeared in print! Bach and his contemporaries certainly didn't think of "chord progressions" in the sense of "C Em F G7" or whatever - that notation was non-existent at the time.
    – user19146
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 21:34
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    … If you want to know how Bach and his contemporaries did think of chords, read the relevant chapters of C P E Bach's "True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments" (C P E was one of J S Bach's sons). FWIW this thread music.stackexchange.com/questions/27308/… is a good example of several people (including Walter Piston, who ought to have known better IMO) making a complete hash of analysing something that is really very simple to understand, by trying to explain it using "modern" chord theory, which is not the way its composer thought about it!.
    – user19146
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 21:42
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    @foreyez While I don't think that Bach thought about melodic lines in terms of harmony either, it's also true that he tends to adhere to many of the rules of harmony without thinking about it. If you want to really feel like you understand the subject, I would suggest that you consider following alephzero's advice about reading CPE Bach, and form your own opinions after doing so.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 20:50

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