This is the first part of a history of European music, from Pythagoras to The Beatles. It will consist of five parts published at The Brussels Journal, Atlas Shrugs and possibly other websites such as Europe News and La Yijad en Eurabia. After these parts have been completed, the entire essay will be republished at the Gates of Vienna. I have utilized many sources for this text, but the single most important reference work is A History of Western Music, Seventh Edition, by Donald J. Grout, Peter J. Burkholder and Claude V. Palisca.
The earliest evidence we have of musical instruments dates back to the Old Stone Age. We know that there were rich musical traditions in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China and elsewhere. Indirectly, it is possible that some aspects of Babylonian musical theory and practice influenced the Greek, and by extension European, musical tradition. The ancient Greeks used various musical instruments such as harps, horns, lyres, drums and cymbals. Greek music theory evolved continually from Pythagoras before 500 BC to Aristides Quintilianus in the late third century AD, whose treatise De musica (On Music) is an important source of knowledge of the Greek musical tradition. Music was closely connected to astronomy in Pythagorean thought, as mathematical laws and proportions were considered to be the underpinnings of both musical intervals and the heavenly bodies.
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Plato and Aristotle argued that education should stress gymnastics to discipline the body and music to discipline the mind. Plato was, as usual, the stricter of the two. He would only allow certain types of music for limited purposes and asserted that musical conventions must not be changed, since lawlessness in art leads to anarchy. Aristotle was less restrictive and argued that music could be used for enjoyment as well as for education. To the Romans, music was a natural part of most public ceremonies and featured in entertainment and in education, too. During the early Christian era, the musical legacy of the Greco-Roman world was modified and transmitted to the West by scholars such as Martianus Capella (fifth century AD).
The Church was the dominant social institution in post-Roman times and deeply affected the future development of European music. Some elements of Christian observances may derive from Jewish tradition, chiefly the chanting of Scripture and the signing of psalms, poems of praise from the Hebrew Book of Psalms. How much borrowing there was from Jewish sources is hard to say, but similarities between Jewish melodies passed down through oral tradition and medieval melodic formulas for signing psalms in Christian churches suggest that there might have been some borrowing. For medieval Christians, music was the servant of religion. The most characteristic Byzantine chants were hymns, which became more prominent in the liturgy of the Eastern Church than in the Western one.
Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.