Music Timeline

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Read this history of music and find a timeline of milestones in the music industry, dating from 325 to the present day

Constantine declares Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The spread of Christianity in the western world spurred the development of European music.
Pope Gregory the Great codifies and collects the chant, which is used in Roman Catholic services and is named the Gregorian chant in his honor.
c. 850
Western music begins to move from monophony to polyphony with the vocal parts in church music moving in parallel intervals.
c. 1030
Guido of Arezzo, an Italian monk, develops a system for learning music by ear. Voice students often use the system, called solfège, to memorize their vocal exercises. In the 19th century, solf ège developed into the tonic sol-fa system used today.
c. 1180
Troubadours appear in Germany and call themselves minnesingers, “singers about love.”
The Renaissance begins. This rebirth favors the simplistic virtues of Greek and Roman Classic styles, moves from polyphony to one harmonized melody and sees the increased importance and popularity of secular music. Josquin Desprez, often called the Prince of Music, is a leading composer of the Renaissance. He worked for ducal courts in Italy and France, at the Sistine Chapel and for kings Louis XI and Louis XII.
In Pope Pius IV's Counter-Reformation, he restores church music to its pure vocal form by eliminating all instruments except the organ, any evidence of secularism, harmony and folk melody. Giovanni Da Palestrina satisfies the pope's rigid requirements and creates a new spiritual style that legend says “saved polyphony” when he writes Pope Marcellus Mass, his most famous and enchanting piece.
In Italian music, castration emerges as a way of preserving high male singing voices. St. Paul's dictum prohibited women from singing on stage and in churches. The practice becomes commonplace by 1574.
The English Madrigal School is firmly established. The movement, led by Thomas Morley, produces some of the most delightful secular music ever heard. Madrigals often told stories of love or grief.
A group of musicians and intellectuals gather in Count Giovanni de Bardi's camerata (salon) and discuss and experiment with music drama. It is during this period that opera is born. Jacopo Peri's Dafne, the first Italian opera, is produced in 1598 and Euridice in 1600.
c. 1600
The Baroque period, characterized by strict musical forms and highly ornamental works, begins in Europe. This period signals the end of the Renaissance.
Italian master composer Claudio Monteverdi writes the opera Orfeo, Favola in Musica, a work deemed to be a prime example of the early Baroque musical form.
Francesca Caccini, who most historians say is the first female composer, finishes the opera-ballet La Liberazione di Ruggiero, which is performed at a reception for Wladyslaw IV of Poland.
Professional female singers appear for the first time on the English stage in the production of Chloridia, a court masque produced by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones.
The first comic opera, Chi Soffre Speri by Virgilio Mazzocchi and Marco Marazzoli, premieres in Rome.
Henry Lawes and Matthew Locke add music to William Davenant's libretto The Siege of Rhodes, which is performed at the Rutland House in London. Davenant helps make the opera-masque a form of public entertainment.
The first signed Stradivarius violins emerge from Antonio Stradivari's workshop in Cremona, Italy.
Matthew Locke composes Psyche, the first surviving English opera.
Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel are born. They become principal classical composers of the Baroque period. Bach, who fathers 20 children, explores musical forms associated with the church and Handel works as a dramatic composer.
Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas opens in London.
Vivaldi becomes violin master at Venice's La Pieta orphanage. He writes more then 400 concertos for La Pieta in his 35-year service there.
Reinhard Keiser uses French horns for the first time in opera in his production of Octavia.
Vivaldi writes The Four Seasons.
The comic opera, La Serva Padrona, from Battista Pergolesi's serious opera Il Prigionier Superbo, wows Europe with its humorous story and enchanting music.
Handel produces his last great operatic success, Alcina, which features dancer Marie Salle.
Handel's Messiah premieres in Dublin to an enthusiastic audience.
Bach dies. The end of the Baroque period is often seen in conjunction with his death. The highly ornate style of the Baroque period gives rise to the more simple, clarified styles of the Classical period, which sees the emergence of symphonies and string quartets.
Franz Joseph Haydn becomes Vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterhazy family and Kapellmeister in 1766. Though living virtually as a slave to the family, he had at his disposal an impressive orchestra. During his 30-year service to the family, he completes 108 symphonies, 68 string quartets, 47 piano sonatas, 26 operas, 4 oratorios and hundreds of smaller pieces.
Christoph Willibald von Glück sets out to reform opera with his Orfeo ed Euridice. He wants to restore opera to what the original composers intended it to be—an art form marked by high drama, few recitatives and orchestral set-pieces.
Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro premieres in Vienna.
Mozart's Don Giovanni debuts in Prague.
Franz Peter Schubert is born in Vienna. Though many musicians make Vienna their home, Schubert is the only one to be born there.
Beethoven produces his third symphony, Eröica. This piece marks the beginning of the Romantic period, in which the formality of the Classical period is replaced by subjectivity.
Beethoven completes his Symphony No. 5, which many consider to be the most popular classical work ever written.
Robert Schumann is born in Germany.
Schubert writes “Der Erlkönig,” his first public success and most famous song.
Gioacchino Rossini's The Barber of Seville, based on Pierre Beaumarchais's play, debuts in Rome. His Otello opens in Naples.
Beethoven's hearing has deteriorated so badly that he no longer can hear the piano and must communicate with conversation books.
Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz debuts in Berlin, and he becomes the master of German opera.
Mendelssohn writes the overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which debuts in Stettin in 1827.
Schumann's career as a pianist is over as one of his fingers becomes paralyzed.
The New York Philharmonic is established.
Verdi's Rigoletto debuts in Venice.
Richard Wagner publishes the librettos to Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle): Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Seigfried and Die Götterdämerung. The Ring Cycle is considered one of the most ambitious musical projects ever undertaken by a single person.
Liszt conducts the first performance of his symphonic poems in Weimar. The symphonic poem is an orchestral work, often in one movement, and is usually based on a literary idea. Liszt is credited with creating the genre. His symphonic poems include Orpheus, Les Preludes and Mazeppa.
c. 1860
The slave trade introduces West African rhythms, work songs, chants and spirituals to America, which strongly influence blues and jazz.
Gustav Mahler is born in Bohemia.
Verdi's Aïda premieres in Cairo.
Verdi's Requiem, his most respected work, premieres in Milan.
Tchaikovsky completes Swan Lake. It opens in 1877 at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre.
Wagner's The Ring Cycle is performed in full at the Bayreuth Festival. The opera house was built to accomodate Wagner's works.
Johannes Brahms completes his First Symphony. Twenty years in the making, the symphony received mixed reviews but would become one of the most popular ever written.
Thomas Edison invents sound recording.
Camille Saint-Saën's Samson et Dalila debuts in Weimar.
Thomas Edison patents the phonograph.
John Paine's symphony, In Spring, debuts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is the first American symphony published in the United States.
Tchaikovsky writes the 1812 Overture, commemorating Russia's defeat of Napoleon.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is established.
The Berlin Philharmonic is established.
The Metropolitan Opera House opens in New York.
Gilbert and Sullivan finish The Mikado, which premieres in London.
Strauss writes the symphonic poem, Don Juan, which brings him international fame.
Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty debuts in St. Petersburg.
Carnegie Hall opens in New York.
Dvorak composes his best and most popular work, From the New World.
Ragtime, a combination of West Indian rhythm and European musical form, is born.
Jean Sibelius's Finlandia premieres in Helsinki.
Mahler's Fourth Symphony, his most popular, debuts in Munich.
Claude Debussy introduces impressionism to music in Pelléas and Mélisande at the Opéra Comique in Paris.
The London Symphony Orchestra is established.
A major change in classical-music style comes about with the release of Arnold Schoenberg's Book of Hanging Gardens. The harmony and tonality characteristic of classical music are replaced by dissonance, creating what many listeners consider to be noise.
Igor Stravinsky completes The Firebird for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Stravinsky will become one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier premieres in Dresden.
Billboard magazine publishes a list of the most popular vaudeville songs. It's the predecessor to their trademark charts.
Charles Ives finishes his Fourth Symphony, his defining piece.
After moving from its southern rural roots, jazz establishes Chicago as its capital. The city will become home to such jazz greats as trumpeter Louis Armstrong and pianist Jelly Roll Morton.
“Queen of the Blues” Bessie Smith records her first song, “Down Hearted Blues,” which becomes an immediate success.
The Juilliard School opens in New York.
Maurice Ravel's Bolero opens in Paris.
George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue premieres in New York.
Alban Berg's Wozzeck opens in Berlin.
Jazz composer Duke Ellington writes “It Don't Mean a Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing,” a song that presaged the swing era of the 1930s and 1940s.
Laurens Hammond introduces his Hammond organ.
Electric guitars debut.
Bela Bartok's masterpiece, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, premieres in Basel.
The Glenn Miller Band debuts in New York.
Roy Acuff joins the Grand Ole Opry and brings national recognition to the Nashville-based radio program.
Bing Crosby releases "White Christmas," from the film Holiday Inn. The song goes on to be the all-time, top-selling song from a film.
RCA Victor sprays gold over Glenn Miller's million-copy-seller Chattanooga Choo Choo, creating the first "gold record."
Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes premieres in London, which signals the rebirth of British opera.
Columbia Records introduces the 33 1/3 LP (“long playing”) record at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It allows listeners to enjoy an unprecedented 25 minutes of music per side, compared to the four minutes per side of the standard 78 rpm record.
45 rpm records are sold in the U.S.
In an effort to introduce rhythm and blues to a broader white audience, which was hesitant to embrace “black music,” disc jockey Alan Freed uses the term rock 'n' roll to describe R&B.
Elliott Carter composes his String Quartet No. 1 and becomes a leading avant-garde composer of the 20th century.
Bill Haley and the Comets begin writing hit songs. As a white band using black-derived forms, they venture into rock 'n' roll.
Pierre Boulez completes Le Marteau Sans Maître (The Hammer Without a Master).
With many hit singles (including “Heartbreak Hotel”), Elvis Presley emerges as one of the world's first rock stars. The gyrating rocker enjoys fame on the stages of the Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan shows, as well as in the first of his many movies, Love Me Tender.
Leonard Bernstein completes West Side Story.
Billboard debuts its Hot 100 chart. Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" boasts the first No. 1 record.
Elvis Presley is inducted into the U.S. Army (March 24).
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences sponsors the first Grammy Award ceremony for music recorded in 1958.
Frank Sinatra wins his first Grammy Award -- Best Album for Come Dance with Me.
John Coltrane forms his own quartet and becomes the voice of jazz's New Wave movement.
Patsy Cline releases “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.” The success of the songs help her cross over from country to pop.
A wave of Beatlemania hits the U.K. The Beatles, a British band composed of John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, take Britain by storm.
The Rolling Stones emerge as the anti-Beatles, with an aggressive, blues-derived style.
Folk musician Bob Dylan becomes increasingly popular during this time of social protest with songs expressing objection to the condition of American society.
The Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The Beatles release their break-through concept album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Psychedelic bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane enjoy great success during this period with songs celebrating the counterculture of the '60s.
In August, more than half a million people attend the Woodstock music festival in Bethel, N.Y. (near Woodstock, N.Y.) Performers include Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; The Who; Joan Baez; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Jefferson Airplane; and Sly and the Family Stone.
A Rolling Stones fan is killed at the group's Altamont, California, concert by members of the Hell's Angels.
The Beatles break up. By the end of the year, each member had released a solo album.
Jim Morrison dies in Paris at age 27 (July 3).
The Allman Brothers' Duane Allman dies in a motorcycle accident at age 24. (Oct. 29).
Women dominate the 1971 Grammy Awards, taking all four top categories. Carole King won Record, Album and Song of the Year, while Carly Simon takes the Best New Artist award.
The Jamaican film The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff, launches the popularity of reggae music in the United States.
Patti Smith releases what is considered to be the first punk rock single, “Hey Joe.” Punk roars out of Britain during the late-'70s, with bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash expressing nihilistic and anarchistic views in response to a lack of opportunity in Britain, boredom, and antipathy for the bland music of the day.
Philip Glass completes Einstein on the Beach, the first widely known example of minimalist composition.
Saturday Night Fever sparks the disco inferno.
Elvis Presley dies at Graceland, his Memphis, Tenn. home. He was 42.
Sony introduces the Walkman, the first portable stereo.
The Sugar Hill Gang releases the first commercial rap hit, “Rapper's Delight,” bringing rap off the New York streets and into the popular music scene. Rap originated in the mid 1970s as rhyme spoken over an instrumental track provided by snatches of music from records. Over the decades, rap becomes one of the most important commercial and artistic branches of pop music.
John Lennon of the Beatles shot dead in New York City.
MTV goes on the air running around the clock music videos, debuting with “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
Michael Jackson releases Thriller, which sells more than 25 million copies, becoming the biggest-selling album in history.
With the introduction of noise-free compact discs, the vinyl record begins a steep decline.
Led by Bob Geldof, the band Band Aid releases "Do They Know It's Christmas," with proceeds of the single going to feed the starving in Africa.
Madonna launches her first road show, the Virgin Tour.
Dozens of top-name musicians and bands perform at the Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia and London. The shows benefit African famine victims.
Though African, Latin American,and other genres of international music have been around for centuries, a group of small, London-based labels coin the term “world music,” which helps record sellers find rack space for the eclectic music.
CDs outsell vinyl records for the first time.
Euro dance band Milli Vanilli admits to lip-synching hits such as "Girl You Know Its True," and has its Grammy award revoked.
Seattle band Nirvana releases the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the LP Nevermind and enjoys national success. With Nirvana's hit comes the grunge movement, which is characterized by distorted guitars, dispirited vocals,and lots of flannel.
Compact discs surpass cassette tapes as the preferred medium for recorded music.
Woodstock '94 commemorates the original weekend-long concert. Green Day and Nine Inch Nails join Woodstock veterans including Santana and Joe Cocker.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum opens in Cleveland. Renowned architect I. M. Pei designed the ultra-modern, 150,000 square-foot building.
Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia dies.
Janet Jackson becomes the highest-paid musician in history when she signs an $80-million deal with Virgin Records.
Jazz great Ella Fitzgerald dies.
Legendary crooner Frank Sinatra dies of a heart attack at age 82.
The merger of two major recording labels, Universal and Polygram, causes upheaval in the recording industry. It is estimated that the new company, Universal Music Group, controls 25% of the worldwide music market.
Woodstock '99 kicks off in Rome, N.Y. Concertgoers complain that the spirit of the original Woodstock has been compromised and commercialized.
The Internet transforms music scene as companies offer free music over the Internet without paying copyright fees. Music industry executives take the issue to court. A ruling prompts Napster to stop distributing copyrighted music free and team up with industry giant Bertelsmann to provide material for a fee.
Apple Computer introduces Apple iTunes Music Store, which allows people to download songs for 99 cents each.
Record Store Day is founded during a meeting of record store owners in Baltimore. It becomes an annual international celebration of the independently owned record store held every third Saturday in April.
Michael Jackson, the pop icon, dies suddenly in Los Angeles, California, on June 25, 2009, of cardiac arrest. His death stunned fans around the world. He had been set to embark on a comeback tour at the time of his death.
Troubled singer Amy Winehouse dies on July 23 after a very public battle with drug and alcohol abuse. Praised by critics for revitalizing the music scene in Britain and a trailblazer for other female artists, Winehouse is 27 when she dies, passing away at the same age as rock stars Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison.
One of the biggest pop singing sensations of all-time, Whitney Houston, is found dead in her room at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Her death comes on the eve of the Grammy Awards and while a pre-Grammy party is being held downstairs at the hotel. The cause of Houston's death is later ruled an accidental drowning. One of the world's best-selling artists from the mid80s through the late 1990s, Houston is also known for her film work, including The Bodyguard (1992) with Kevin Costner. The film's soundtrack has sold more than 42 million copies in the world and includes "I Will Always Love You," arguably Houston's best loved song.
Vinyl records continue to make a strong comeback. While CD sales decline 14.5% and digital sales decline 2%, vinyl sales increase 33.5% for the year. According to Nielsen SoundScan, for the sixth consecutive year, the music industry sees an increase in vinyl sales. In fact, more vinyl albums are purchased in 2013 than any other year since Nielsen SoundScan started keeping score.

Sources +