Questions tagged [history]

For questions about how music has developed and changed over time or for questions about concepts and ideas of a historic period of music. Do not use just because the subject of the question is a historic figure or piece.

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Training and Influences of J. S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach is undoubtedly among the most celebrated of Baroque composers, and to many the great composer in all history. The era of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in which he lived, ...
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Wind instruments: why is the left hand on top?

Every wind instrument which require the two hands to press keys (saxophone, clarinet, oboe…) have the left hand of the player being the top one. This consistency makes it easier to switch from one ...
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What is the origin of the triangle symbol for maj7 chords?

An article on the origin of the "delta" symbol has been doing the rounds recently. It quotes a book by Yusef Lateef, which claims that John Coltrane introduced the "triangle notation&...
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Is the tritone (A4 / d5 / DA3 / Dd6) still banned in Roman Catholic music?

The tritone is one of the most dissonant intervals in music. It is also known as the "Augmented 4th", "Diminished 5th", "Doubly Augmented 3rd" or "Doubly Diminished 6th", and it is composed of three ...
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Why didn't more composers who composed violin concertos compose viola concertos?

Wouldn't the glut of violin and cello concertos from the Baroque and Classical eras motivate composers to compose Viola Concertos? Isn't adding to the deluge of violin and cello concertos more ...
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Why is Debussy's remark brilliant (on going out and smoking, at the start of Beethoven's developments)?

From: Charles Rosen. Critical Entertainments. p. 117 Bottom - 118 Top.   In the same way, attacks on Beethoven could be profound and even persuasive, and would continue to be so after his death ...
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What is the oldest instrument ever?

What is the oldest musical instrument played other than the human voice, but body parts are acceptable? Did Neanderthals use instruments to play music?
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What kind of musical scales did the ancient "pagan" tribes use before Roman/Greek contact?

As far as I know, the "western musical scale" is a greek invention. In Indian and Arabic music you find other scales (and time signatures as well). What sort of scales and time signatures did the ...
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Why were sound effects like the gunshot included in the General MIDI (GM) standard?

I recently learned about the general MIDI standard and one thing that I cannot understand is the last sound effect is always a gunshot. Most of the other effects like applause, telephone ring, and ...
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What do these unusual signs on key signature mean?

I know that the more typical notation for the little X in the time signature is used for double sharps, but in the intro of the volume the author of this work seems to say that he is using that symbol ...
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When did keyboard partitions start to use the G-clef for the upper staff ?

When you look at very old sheetmusic (for harpsichord or organ), you see that the upper staff has a C-clef, first line. The lower one is the familiar bass F-clef, fourth line. Why and when did the ...
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How did baroque music sound at the time?

Historical context Let's for example consider Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (click here to enjoy). It was composed at the very beginning of the 18th century in Germany. At that time: ...
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Unusual keyboard in a picture

I came across the picture which represents the piano keyboard with equally spaced black keys (as if two missing were added to ordinary keyboard). The picture is a painting by Silvestro Lega, named Il ...
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Did Beethoven "invent" ragtime with Piano Sonata No 32 Op 111?

I had an interesting question. It is common knowledge that ragtime came about as a genre with Scott Joplin. However, I am curious if anyone has any information about Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in ...
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Why Orlando Gibbons is considered "the end of modality, the beginning of tonality"?

According to Glenn Gould (minute 28:20), Orlando Gibbons represents the end of modality, the beginning of tonality Can anyone deepen the meaning of this? Could you please point to a specific ...
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Earliest-*known* use of a double leading tone cadence?

Background For those who do not know, the double leading tone cadence was perhaps the single defining characteristic of Ars Nova. Earlier music styles used much simpler cadences (movement by 3rds, ...
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Why is Italian the standard for expressive markings in music?

I was reading through the music for Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy a few days ago and I realized that I am often surprised when I see expressive markings (dynamics, tempo, accents and the like) that ...
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History of "jazz minor/melodic minor" harmony

I'm curious about the development of modern (post-bop-ish) jazz harmony. In Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book, he shows how modes of the melodic minor scale can be used to form and improvise over chords ...
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What piano music was played in "wild west" saloons before the ragtime appeared?

The stereotypical saloon scene in most movies about the Wild West often features ragtime being played on a piano. However, ragtime only appeared at the very end of the century (the first known ...
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Where did the symbols ♭ and ♯ originate from, and why those?

We're all used to flat and sharp signs, also naturals. Accidentals in some cases. But why those unusual signs? I suspect the ♭ may have something to do with the German B, but the ♯ sign? Something to ...
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In ancient Greece, did they use the Pythagoras discovery of ratios to create tetra-chord?

To my basic understanding: In ancient Greek they were primarily using tetra-chords and there was three main standard divisions of these tetra-chords called genus. In the same era Pythagoras ...
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Fivefold division of the whole tone - What does it mean?

I am recently reading this article: Jan W. Herlinger. Journal of the American Musicological Society. Vol. 34, No. 2 (Summer, 1981), pp. 193-216 (Title: Marchetto's Division of the Whole Tone). In the ...
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Why was the Forte-Piano abbreviated as 'Piano' and not as 'Forte'?

Piano is often just short for Forte-Piano, the instrument's christened name. Why is it that the more common name did not become the Forte? Is that just a thing that fate decided or was there someone ...
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Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons", Who Chose the Title?

Did Vivaldi himself choose the title "The Four Seasons" and the titles for each of the four concerti, or they're chosen by publishers?
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How was sheet music printed before the advent of computers?

Computers have made the process of creating printed music incredibly easy and accessible. But how did publishers create nice-looking printed music before the advent of computers? It's hard for me to ...
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What is the earliest known use or indication of "col legno"

col legno or col legno battuto meaning : strike (the string) with the wood (of the bow) is commonly found in 20th century chamber music. But I have heard it might have been used earlier (at least 18th ...
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Why was Le Concert Spirituel playing out of tune at Proms 2012?

I know it sounds like an odd question, but I was listening to a recording of Handel's music for the Royal Fireworks (available here on Youtube), and there are sections where the horn players are ...
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Did they ever make a double bass this huge?

I have seen some pictures where the double bass is literally enormous. Seems like a single person wouldn't be an able to play it on his own. But I don't know for sure if these pictures are real or ...
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Musical Shape on music stand

I've seen this shape a few times, but what exactly does it represents?
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Where did "The Real Book" originally come from?

I saw my first copy of The Real Book when I was 15. The coolest, hippest, jazziest trumpet player I knew (he was 17 and knew who Miles Davis was) had a copy of this spiral-bound badge of savvy: a ...
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How did the plagal modes differ from their authentic counterpart in practice?

In the traditional modal system there were eight modes. Four that were authentic and four were plagal. These modes are depicted below: Based on the description of the modes the final note of the ...
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Is it a coincidence that "blue" notes are "chromatic"?

According to the OED: The word "chromatic" has been applied to music with lots of accidentals since at least the 17th century. In the 19th century, a "blue note" was one that was incorrect; starting ...
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Earliest Music Notation Programs

I just came across this terrific video of sample notation (of ABBA, no less!; here's the original) done with Bank Street Music Writer, a program released back in 1985 (!). This is the earliest ...
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What's the earliest known piece of polyphonic music?

Do we know what is the earliest known piece of polyphonic music? I know that there are some 12-th century composers like Léonin and Pérotin that did this kind of thing, but did they compose the ...
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Historical origins of 8-count bars in dance vs 4-count bars in music

I'm a dancer, and one of my dancer friends recently posed a question which I thought musicians might be able to answer. In our particular style of dance (west coast swing) and in many others that ...
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Was the pitch A given that letter because the minor key was originally the "basic" mode?

It's something that's puzzled me; The key that has no sharps and no flats, in essence the "basic" key, is C Major. Well, fine, but why C? Why not label that key and note A, if it's the foundation of ...
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How were tuning/temperaments indicated on scores (if they ever were)?

Bradley Lehman claims that the details of the intended tuning for the Well-Tempered Claivier are encoded in the squiggle at the top of the manuscript (related wikipedia link). Are there other (...
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What Constitutes Theory?

There are many questions here concerning theory. Hardly surprising given the site's title! What I'm trying to establish is where theory starts and possibly ends. For example, is just knowing a major ...
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Why is a 2-5-1 progression so often associated with JAZZ?

Why is a 2-5-1 progression so often associated with JAZZ?? Is there something inherent in this progression that makes it sound jazzy? Or rather, is it just that jazz people started to use it, ...
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How did people tune their instruments in the past?

Today we are using electronic tuners and know everything about frequencies but in the past, like before the 16th century, how could people tune their instruments? Did they tune them to specific ...
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Was the viola da gamba or violin particularly associated with England in the late 16th or early 17th century?

The viola da gamba was an instrument in use throughout western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries; the modern(ish) violin became popular around the turn of the 17th century. But instruments ...
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Origin of Roman Numeral Analysis

Out of curiosity, I was searching for the origin of Roman Numeral analysis and the only online source I could find was this passage in Wikipedia: Gottfried Weber's Versuch einer geordneten Theorie ...
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The origin of "Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father"

The order of the flats is given by the mnemonic "Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father", and the order of sharps by the reverse ("Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle"). What is the history ...
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Is a violin's shape (particularly the f-holes) necessary or is it just for aesthetics?

Violins have a rather beautiful design. ... is such design necessary? Is a violin's natural sound only achieved when it has this specific shape? I have a particular interest in the f-holes. Are they ...
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How did Pythagoras and Ptolemy measure the relative pitch of musical notes?

Both Pythagoras and Ptolemy believed that the intervals between notes in music should be ratios of small integer numbers. This is known as Just Intonation. Pythagoras liked them to derived from ...
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Musicians Unions In The Modern Day

Historically, the AFM was the place to be to get anything done with music performance; or so that's what I heard growing up. But I don't hear much about it now. This was even the case while I was ...
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When was the deceptive cadence introduced?

Bach used the Deceptive Cadence as early as his Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, which dates to the early 18th century. Are there earlier uses? A definitive answer may be impossible, but I ...
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What changes were made to Dvořák's Cello Concerto by Wihan?

Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, is a standard part of the modern cello repertoire, probably even the most popular concerto on the instrument. For the most part the version played ...
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Notation of triplets in Bach’s *Orgelbüchlein*

In the following piece from J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, the nearly constant triplet line seems to be incorrect: The time signature is 3/2, but there are 9 eighth-note triplets per measure rather than ...
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Who invented rhythmic value names based on fractions of a measure of 4/4 music?

In American music a Semibreve is called a "whole note". Here it states that the name "whole note" comes from a German expression (ganze Note): In the world of music, you may ...

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