Music has been changing and evolving from Ancient times to the present day, and it often changes slowly, one day at a time.

However, when we look back in history we can identify a few world events that had an almost immediate, far-reaching impact.

Here are three world events that changed music forever.

1. The Invention of the Printing Press

What It Was

An invention by German publisher Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth century.

Other prototypes had been created, most notably in China, but the Gutenberg press was the first to use moveable type.

What It Meant

Books and manuscripts no longer had to be copied by hand. They could be produced faster, cheaper, and in much larger quantities than ever before.

This enabled people to be able to purchase books and pamphlets at a much more affordable cost. Information and education was no longer only for the very wealthy.

Ideas and knowledge spread farther and faster than they ever had before, and were now in the hands of the common people.

This invention was one of the most world-changing in history. Only the (comparatively) recent invention of the internet has been able to put so much information into the reach of so many people.

What It Did for Music

Before the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, music, like any other manuscript, had to be copied by hand.

Imagine a composer having to make handwritten copies of his pieces for everyone who wanted one!

Needless to say, these copies were expensive and could only be purchased by the wealthy.

The ability to make printed copies of music manuscripts changed all that.

Sheet music was now much cheaper and available to the middle class.

This opened up a whole new market for composers, who no longer had to rely only on wealthy patrons or paid positions in the Church to make a living.

Music has always been for ordinary people, of course. But their lack of resources required them to pass their pieces on aurally to others, who had to commit it to memory.

Having physical copies of the sheet music was a distant dream for most people.

Gutenberg’s printing press changed that forever.

2. The Protestant Reformation

What It Was

A movement within the Christian church, beginning in the sixteenth century, to return to the ancient teachings of the apostles and shift authority away from the Pope and the hierarchal structure of Roman Catholicism.

Protestant doctrine is separated from Catholic doctrine by five main points of dissension, called The Five Solas: Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone).

What It Meant

The Protestant Reformation had more world-shaping consequences than could be listed here, but I’ll do my best to summarize the main ones.

The Christian Church, which up until then had been almost entirely Roman Catholic, split into two factions: Protestant and Catholic.

The Bible, which had previously been in available in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, was translated into the language of common people. To this day, it continues to be translated into more and more languages and made available to people all around the world.

The sermon took precedence in the liturgy of Protestant services while the Mass continued to be the most important element in Catholic services.

The formal priesthood of Catholic Church was abolished in Protestant churches, who teach that all believers, male and female, are priests before God. (The Anglican Church is an exception to this: they are a Protestant tradition that continues to ordain priests).

Many, many battles were fought/sparked/started by these doctrinal differences.

Some monarchies were strengthened, some were toppled, others were reestablished with new religious convictions.

Families were united or divided in the debate, alliances were made and sometimes broken.

Many people were driven out of their homes, imprisoned, or killed for their beliefs.

The conflict literally changed the map of Europe and heavily influenced the discovery and territorial division of the New World.

What It Did for Music

The Reformation left virtually no part of European life untouched, but it had a particular impact on the musical world.

Just the fact that the Church split in two was bound to bring changes for church musicians. What had been commonly practiced for centuries in the Roman Catholic church was no longer universal.

Calvinist churches sang only Psalms, without instrumental accompaniment.

Lutheran churches, by contrast, devoted very large portions of their liturgy to music. Their services featured organ preludes and elaborate choral cantatas.

Perhaps the most significant musical change brought about by the Reformation was the Lutheran congregational chorale (similar to the congregational hymns we sing today). Luther wanted to bring singing back to the congregation, rather than leaving it all to the choir.

The chorales were meant for the whole congregation. This included women, who had not been permitted to sing in Roman Catholic services.

Incidentally, one of the greatest composers in history, J.S. Bach, was a devout Protestant. Born in the same town in which Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German, he spent most of his career writing music for the Lutheran church.

3. The Industrial Revolution

What It Was

A movement beginning in the late eighteenth century that changed the way goods were produced and manufactured.

It shifted societal emphasis from rural and agricultural life to urban city-dwelling. Factories were able to mass-produce goods for the first time.

What It Meant

The Industrial Revolution changed the lives of many people, some for the better and some for the worse.

Factory work was difficult, dangerous, and grueling. Many children were put to hard labor. Some were injured, and some were killed.

Pollution was a problem, and still is. The quality of life worsened for many in the cities.

But the mass-production of goods also benefited many people. If the goods that factories produced were not as consistent in quality, they were much more affordable.

New inventions made peoples lives easier, and people of less income could afford more than they had been able to in the past.

What It Did for Music

Like the earlier invention of the printing press, the Industrial Revolution made music accessible to more people.

Musical instruments, sheet music, music stands were now mass-produced and sold at much cheaper prices.

This enabled people of lesser means to buy them and become musicians.

Music soon became a pastime in nearly every middle-class household, ushering in a new age of “parlour music”, or music played in the parlour of people’s homes.

Music was no longer just an occupation for professionals. It was also for amateurs, who played for their own pleasure and the entertainment of others.

This is still true today.

Can you think of another historical event that had a huge impact on music? Leave a comment below!

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