Important Events in Music

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c. 2800 b.c.e.–c. 1100 b.c.e.During the Aegean Bronze Age, musicians and musical instruments are depicted in frescoes, on vases and seal stones, and in sculpture. Fragments of lyres, pipes, percussion instruments, and triton horns survive from this period.
c. 2200 b.c.e.Figurines from the Cycladic Islands depict Bronze-Age Aegean musicians holding the frame harp, the aulos (reed pipe), and the syrinx (pan-pipe).
c. 1490 b.c.e.A Bronze-Age painted sarcophagus from Ayia Triada, Crete, illustrates musicians playing the phorminx (lyre) and aulos during a ritual sacrifice.
c. 1100 b.c.e.A miniature bronze votive kithara (lyre) from the Sanctuary of Apollo at Amyklai (near Sparta) is the earliest representation of the type that would become popular in the classical period (480–323 b.c.e.).
c. 800 b.c.e.–c. 700 b.c.e.During the Early Archaic Period, the Homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey, the Homeric Hymns, and the poet Hesiod describe musicians, instruments, and musical contexts. Phemios and Demodokos, two of Homer's aoidoi (professional bards), perform at the palaces of Odysseus and the Phaiakians in the Odyssey.
c. 750 b.c.e.–c. 550 b.c.e.Greeks colonize southern Italy and eastern Sicily; musicians, poets, and composers bring Greek musical culture to Syracuse and other cities in Magna Graecia.
c. 676 b.c.e.–c. 673 b.c.e.Music schools are established in Sparta by Terpander of Lesbos and Thaletas of Gortyn.
The virtuoso composer and kitharode Terpander wins the musical competition at the first Karneia festival of Apollo and four successive victories at the Pythian Games.
c. 654 b.c.e.–c. 611 b.c.e.Lyric poet Alcman lives in Sparta and composes his Partheneia ("Maiden's Dance").
The island of Lesbos becomes a second music center.
c. 628 b.c.e.–c. 625 b.c.e.Arion of Lesbos teaches the Corinthian choirs to perform the dithyramb (male choral dance), which he invented. The tragic chorus is said to have developed from his type of dithyramb.
c. 612 b.c.e.The most famous female poet, Sappho, is born on Lesbos. At her hometown of Mytilene she composes lyrical songs, usually monodies and choral dances, and is the leader of a circle of girls and young women; the barbitos (a low-pitched lyre) and other instruments accompany the music.
c. 632 b.c.e.–c. 556 b.c.e.The composer Stesichorus (born Teisias) sets up the first tragic chorus and is known for his use of the Harmateios nomos ("Chariot melody") and the Nomos of Athena in the Phrygian mode, which tells the story of the birth of Athena in full armor from the head of Zeus.
c. 625 b.c.e.–c. 585 b.c.e.The dithyramb (male choral dance) is invented by kitharode Arion of Lesbos during the time of the tyrant Periander at Corinth.
c. 600 b.c.e.–c. 500 b.c.e.Tyrants reform festivals, and attract talented musicians to their cities: at Corinth, Periander supports Arion, who creates the dithyramb; at Sicyon, Cleisthenes ends performances of rhapsodes and paves the way for classical tragedy; and Pisistratus institutes the festival of the City Dionysia in Athens, a central feature of which are dithyrambic, tragic, and comic contests.
Thespis produces the first tragedy in Athens by adding a speaker to interact with the chorus.
Under Hipparchus, Pisistratus' son, the poets Anacreon, Lasus of Hermione, and Simonides flourish. Hipparchus develops the rhapsodes' competition at the Great Panathenaea into an organized serial performance of the entire Iliad and Odyssey.
586 b.c.e.New contests for aulodes and auletes are added at the Pythian Games. The aulode Echembrotus of Arcadia wins a bronze tripod cauldron.
The aulete (piper) Sakadas of Argos wins a prize at the music contest at the Pythian Games. He will win prizes at the next two Games, and become known for his Pythikos nomos ("Pythian Composition") in which he interprets the defeat of the serpent Pytho by Apollo at Delphi.
Argos becomes a center of musical excellence.
574 b.c.e.–554 b.c.e.Pythocritus of Sicyon wins six Pythian victories on the aulos.
c. 560 b.c.e.The philosopher, mathematician, and scientist Pythagoras is born. He later founds a school at Croton where he and his followers study acoustical and musical phenomena.
566 b.c.e.The Panathenaea festival at Athens is reorganized on a grander scale and includes music competitions for rhapsodes, kitharodes, aulodes, and auletes.
558 b.c.e.Unaccompanied kithara-playing is added to the Pythian music competition. Agelaus of Tegea is the first victor.
c. 520 b.c.e.–c. 460 b.c.e.The east-Greek poet Anacreon's presence in Athens prompts a series of vase-paintings that depict Ionian influence in Athenian music. In one image a singer holds a barbitos (an Ionian-style lyre) with Anacreon's name on it.
518 b.c.e.The poet Pindar, the most celebrated of all lyric poets of ancient Greece, is born near Thebes in Boeotia (d. 438). He is most famous for his epinikian odes composed for victors at the four athletic games: Pythian, Nemean, Isthmian, and Olympic.
c. 508 b.c.e.Lasus introduces the dithyrambic competition in Athens.
c. 500 b.c.e.–c. 400 b.c.e.Democratic Athens is the center of all intellectual and cultural activity in Greece. In this city, tragedians Aeschylus, Phrynichus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Agathon produce their dramas in the theater of Dionysus during the City Dionysia; comic playwright Aristophanes lampoons Athenian politics and culture; and poets Lasus, Simonides, Bacchylides, Pindar, Melanippides, Timotheus, Philoxenus, and Cinesias compose dithyrambs for Athenian choruses and so-called "New Music."
478 b.c.e.–467 b.c.e.Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily, makes his city a haven for artists, poets, and musicians from all over Greece. His hospitality toward Pindar is so appreciated that the poet composes a eulogy for him.
c. 475 b.c.e.The first concert hall in the Western world—the Odeion—is commissioned by the Athenian statesman Themistocles for musical contests held during the Great Panathenaea. It stands in the Athenian marketplace.
474 b.c.e.Hieron defeats the Etruscans at Cumae and begins his rule at Syracuse, during which time he entertains Aeschylus, Pindar, and other Greek artists and musicians.
c. 470 b.c.e.The Etruscans build the so-called "Tomb of the Leopards" and "Tomb of the Triclinium" in Tarquinia, northern Italy, and paint the walls with a funerary banquet scene featuring men and women dancing to the music of the aulos (reed pipe) and a six-stringed chelys (tortoise-shell) lyre.
c. 450 b.c.e.Several different forms of harp begin to appear in Athenian vase-paintings, although it was a familiar instrument to Anacreon before this time.
c. 435 b.c.e.The noted dithyrambist Philoxenus of Cythera is born. His most famous work will be the Cyclops (also called Polyphemus and Galatea).
443 b.c.e.–c. 430 b.c.e.Damon, one of the greatest intellects of his time, publishes an essay in which he argues that musical modes and rhythms are intimately connected with ethical qualities, and the state should concern itself with the regulation of music and music education. His ideas influence Plato's and Aristotle's attitudes regarding the ethos of music in their discussion of music education.
c. 427 b.c.e.The philosopher Plato is born. He will discuss the character and role of music in many of his works, most notably in the Timaeus, Republic, and Laws.
c. 420 b.c.e.The musician Timotheus of Miletus beats his teacher, the eminent Phrynis, in a music competition. Several hundred lines of his kitharodic composition Persians survive, along with an epilogue containing prayers to Apollo and a manifesto praising his own talent and originality.
416 b.c.e.The tragedian and composer Agathon wins first place in the dramatic contest at the Lenaea in Athens. He is later satirized by Aristophanes in his Thesmophoriazousae but treated with much affection in Plato's Symposium.
410 b.c.e.–360 b.c.e.The witty kitharist Stratonicus of Athens is active, along with a host of other virtuoso performers whose showmanship captivates audiences, including Chrysogonus, hired to pipe the rowing stroke for the naval general Alcibiades' crew; the aulete Pronomus of Thebes, shown on a vase (in the Museo Nazionale in Naples) playing before a crowd of actors, wearing an ornate robe and a garland on his head; and Antigeneidas, another aulete from Thebes, described by the writer Apuleius as a "honey-sweet melodizer of every word and a practiced player of every mode" (Flor. 4).
402 b.c.e.Kitharodes, the most popular with the crowds, win the largest prizes at major competitions; the list of prizes includes: a gold crown weighing 85 drachmas, a crown worth 1,000 silver drachmas, and 500 drachmas in cash; other kitharode prizes are worth 700, 600, 400, and 300 drachmas, respectively. There are two prizes for aulodes (300 and 100 drachmas) and three for kitharists.
c. 400 b.c.e.–c. 300 b.c.e.Alexander the Great's five-day wedding celebration in Susa features entertainment by a rhapsode, three psilokitharists, two kitharodes, two aulodes, five auletes (who played the Terpandrean Pythikos nomos) and then accompanied choruses, three tragic and three comic actors, and a harpist.
392 b.c.e.–388 b.c.e.Aristophanes produces his last surviving comedies Ecclesiazusae (Women in the Assembly) and Plutus (Wealth), in which the part of the chorus has been much reduced and is no longer written by the playwright; instead of choral lyrics, the word "KHOROU" ("interlude by chorus") appears. Solo song and piping continue as central musical elements in the play.
343 b.c.e.Aristotle discusses the character and purpose of music in his Politics and Problems. The music theorist Aristoxenus becomes one of his prize pupils.
c. 333 b.c.e.Aristoxenus is a pupil of Aristotle in Athens and writes many books and essays, the most influential of which are the Harmonika stoikheia (Harmonic Elements) and Rhythmika stoikheia (Rhythmic Elements).
319 b.c.e.The boy's chorus of the Cecropid tribe wins the dithyramb contest at the Great Dionysia in Athens with a rendition of Timotheus' composition Elpenor.
316 b.c.e.Dyskolos (Grouch), the one complete surviving play of comic writer Menander, is produced; it features four choral interludes indicated by the word "KHOROU" between the five acts. At line 879 a stage direction "the aulos player plays" and a change in rhythm indicates additional musical content.
311 b.c.e.Roman censor Appius Claudius Caecus deprives the Etruscan artists' guild (collegium) the right to dine at the public expense in the Temple of Jupiter after performing at the religious festivals; they protest by marching out of Rome to Tibur (eighteen miles away), and eventually win back their free dinners.
c. 300 b.c.e.–c. 200 b.c.e.New dramatic and musical competitions are added to the Nemean and Isthmian Games.
Kitharode Nicocles of Tarentum records his victories at the Pythian and Isthmian Games, Great Panathenaea, the Lenaea (in a dithyramb), the Hecatomboia, the Helieia, and royal festivals in Macedonia and Alexandria.
Artists come together in several cities in Greece, Alexandria, and Sicily to form professional organizations known as technitai Dionysou (Artists of Dionysus), which formed guilds (koina, or later synodoi). They provide musicians, composers, conductors, and teachers for religious festivals and secular events.
290 b.c.e.–280The technitai ("artists guild") forms in Athens to produce shows in various cities. The rival Isthmian-Nemean guild is established in the north-east Peloponnese; both establish relations with Delphi.
c. 270 b.c.e.Ktesibios of Alexandria invents the pneumatic pump and the water-organ (Greek hydraulis).
235 b.c.e.A major artists' guild appears in Teos, which serves Ionia and the Hellespont.
211 b.c.e.The Isthmian-Nemean guild is invited to participate in several festivals, including the festival of the Muses at Thespiae, at Thebes, on the island of Delos, and around the Peloponnese.
205 b.c.e.Kitharode Pylades of Megalopolis performs Timotheus' Persians at the Nemean Games.
c. 200 b.c.e.–c. 100 b.c.e.New music is performed alongside revivals of old standards and selections from fifth-century tragic poets, especially Euripides.
c. 194 b.c.e.Satyrus of Samos, a famous aulete, wins the prize, and gives an encore performance selected from Euripides' tragedy Bacchae.
191 b.c.e.Plautus produces his comedy Pseudolus (The Cheat), which, like many of his other plays, integrates polymetric cantica (solo songs) accompanied by different types of tibiae (reed pipe) and instrumental pipe music into the plot, along with musical interludes between scenes.
170 b.c.e.–150 b.c.e.Menecles, an envoy from Teos, performs works of Timotheus and Polyidus at Knossos and Priansos, Crete.
163 b.c.e.Terence produces his comedy Heautontimoroumenos (The Self-Tormentor), the structure of which depends completely on musical accompaniment by a tibicen (reed player).
127 b.c.e.–97 b.c.e.Members of the Athenian guild participate in the Pythaid religious pilgrimage from Athens to Delphi. The group consists of epic and dramatic poets, rhapsodes, actors, instrumentalists, singers, and, in 127, a large choir to sing the paean to Apollo; the notated music of the paeans composed for this occasion by kitharist Limenius and singer Athenaeus is inscribed on the wall of the Treasury of the Athenians.
118 b.c.e.The Delphians honor two musicians from Arcadia who trained boys' choruses to perform bits from the "old poets."
90 b.c.e.A Cretan organist named Antipatros awes his audience at Delphi; he is awarded prizes at the Pythian Games and earns civic honors for himself and his descendants.
c. 27 b.c.e.The Roman architect Vitruvius dies. In Book Five of his work De architectura he discusses acoustics in relation to the design of the theater auditorium, and translates the works of Greek music theorist Aristoxenus into Latin, explaining the system of harmonia (tetrachord system) to his Roman readers.
26 b.c.e.–19 b.c.e.Vergil composes his epic for Augustus, the Aeneid, in which he describes a type of Phrygian aulos and other musical instruments and contexts.
22 b.c.e.Pilas of Cilicia introduces pantomime in Rome, which consists of re-creations in performance by solo dancers of scenes from myth and history; musical accompaniment is provided by a chorus and orchestra of pipes, lyres, and percussion instruments.
17 b.c.e.The Latin poet Horace's Carmen Saeculare is performed by a choir of 27 girls and 27 boys; commissioned by the emperor Augustus for Rome's Centennial Games, it is the only known poem of Horace's to have been set to music.
54 c.e.Nero, a seventeen-year old art enthusiast who sings, acts, and plays the kithara and the organ, becomes emperor of Rome.
79 c.e.Vesuvius erupts and buries Pompeii and Herculaneum, preserving a number of frescoes with musical scenes.
c. 100 c.e.The Roman orator Quintilian dies. In his work Institutio oratoria, he discusses music as part of his instructions on how to properly train an orator.
117 c.e.Hadrian becomes emperor of Rome after the death of Trajan. A very cultured man who was heavily influenced by Greek ideals, he employed a Cretan kitharode named Mesomedes to compose hymns; several fragments with musical notation survive in medieval manuscripts.
c. 127 c.e.–148 c.e.Astronomer and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy is writing in Alexandria. Among his many books is the Harmonika, a systematic treatment of the mathematical theory of harmony.
c. 200 c.e.–c. 300 c.e.Gladiators fight to the accompaniment of an organist, trumpeters, and horn-blowers. The organ also is used in religious festivals.
c. 250 c.e.–c. 350 c.e.Two important music theorists are publishing their works: Aristides Quintilianus, De musica (Greek title peri mousikes); and Gaudentius, Harmonica introductio (Greek Harmonike eisagoge).
c. 300 c.e.Alypius, a younger contemporary of Aristides Quintilianus, compiles his Introductio musica, which contains the most complete record of the notational symbols.
384 c.e.The emperor Carinus organizes a concert in Rome with a hundred trumpet players, a hundred horn players, and two hundred tibicens (reed-pipe players).
387 c.e.–389 c.e.Augustine, Latin philosopher and distinguished church father, writes De musica, in which he discusses meter and versification. Ten years later he ponders the ethics of music in church in his autobiographical Confessions (397–400), asking whether the worshipper should be moved by the singing, or the song itself.