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Music Theory - History of Modern Theory and Tonality


  1. Baroque
  2. Classical
  3. Romantic
  4. Modern
  5. Popular
  6. Underground and Indie
!!This page under serious construction!!

This article is a simplified overview of the history of modern music theory in the Western context. This history is extremely important to the Western world's cultural heritage. You can hear it in a piece written 300 years ago, you can hear it in a 1920's 33 1/3, you can hear it in the Beatles, in Louis Armstrong, you can hear it in the streets and in the hook to "Call Me Maybe" and in the motif to "Beethoven's 5th".
Just as with history is general, music history is not primarily about people, it's about events. We will try, therefore, to keep the drooling over Beethoven's wig at a minimum. However, we will certainly talk about his contribution to the idea of motif! We will divide this into five sections:


Our story begins in a pivotal year for music, 1685. Two major events happen this year, it is the birthyear of one Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), and it was the year modern tonality as we know it was invented by one Archangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713), a violinist hailing from Ferrara in Italy. Violin? Wait a minute.
Our story begins in the 9th century AD, with the advent of the lira, a bowed instrument played by striking and pulling a bow against taut strings. Strings? One moment.
Our story begins in the 24th century BC, when the vibration of strings began to be used for music in ancient Mesopotamia, on instruments such as the lyre. Instruments?
Our story begins anywhere from 1,000,000 BC to 50,000 BC, with the beginning of the use of drums for entertainment and music, rather than just ritual.
As you can see, this is kind of pointless. What I'm trying to say is a constant nagging about instruments and other tools to create music is useless in an article about music theory. Sure, the instrument can change the composition of a piece significantly, but that's not what this article is about. Nevertheless, back to 1685.
The vague ideas of modern music date back further, to Renaissance music, and religious hymns, including Gregorian chants, with which a lot of the modes we all know and love were invented, such as the currenly-named Ionian mode. (They had different names way back when, which are now names for different modes. It's all very confusing.)
Works in the Baroque period were characterized by

Bio: Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach was born, as most composers from this time were, to wealthy parents in Eisenach, in what is now Germany. 'Wealthy' is the key word here, if you were born poor in this time, chances were you weren't going to be making very many fugues. In addition, his family was loaded with musicians, including his father, who taught him violin and harpsichord. He wrote over 1000 works, defining and redefining the Baroque period until his death from pneumonia in 1750.

Works To Listen To
Pachelbel's Canon in D
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, J.S Bach
The Well-Tempered Clavier, J.S Bach


With Bach's death ushers out the Baroque period, and marks the start of the Classical period (not to be confused with lowercase classical music)

Bio: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Bio: Ludwig Van Beethoven

Works To Listen To
The enchanted flute, Mozart
Rondo alla Turca, Mozart


Bio: Johannes Brahms
Bio: Ludwig Wan Beethoven
Bio: Liszt
Works To Listen To
Symphony no9, Ludwig Wan Beethoven
Impromptu, Franz Schubert
New world symphony, Strauss


Bio: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948 -) is probably the most famous composer born in the 20th century, especially known for his earth-shaking hits in theater, such as The Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar. Despite accusations of plagiarism, Webber has gone on to win a roomful of awards, becoming the best-selling classical (NOT Classical) composer this side of the moon landing.
Works To Listen To
Images, Claude Debussy
Gymnopédies, Eric Satie
The rite of spring, Igor Stravinski
Sequenza, Luciano Berio (if you want to die)

Music as an entertainment medium only really flourished after the invention of sound recording and playback in the 19th century; before the recording, you got to hear your favorite symphony maybe three time in your entire life! With the invention of the phonograph, possibly the biggest tidal wave in music was unleashed. No longer was music solely in the hands of the rich and educated! You can see this pattern throughout the history of music, the one of it becoming increasingly more accessible to aspiring listeners ad musicians.
The complexity of popular music appears to be of a cyclical nature, as music gets more complex and intricate, a new group seems to storm the stage, and bring back three chords and the truth. This pattern has repeated for the past sixty years or so, with examples being punk rock replacing progressive, rockabilly replacing baroque pop, and grunge replacing 80s synthpop.

Bio: Phil Spector
I debated having a bio for this section, certain it would stir debate. But there is no debate that Phil Spector (1939 -) is probably the most accomplished record producer, ever. He wrote the book on music production, working with such talent as the Beatles. His biggest contribution was the 'Wall of Sound' technique, where instruments such as strings are used to fill holes in a song's EQ, leveling out the volume of each frequency.
Works To Listen To

Underground and Indie

Works To Listen To

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