Music has evolved over centuries. New styles and different features have been created at different times and for different purposes.

Traditionally music would have been created, played and passed on from musician to musician. They would listen to a performance and then repeat it or change it. This led to particular types of music developing in different places.

The Church and musical development

In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church was key to the development of western music. Plainsong formed part of worship. Like the Church itself, this style was used over a wide area.

As music became more complex to learn and pass on, musical notation developed. This opened the way for the role of a composer as someone separate from a musician.

In church, pieces were composed with chorus parts celebrating births, deaths and marriages. In some cases, a church organist would write music for the congregation.

Composers and patrons

Sometimes a musician seeking work would write music for an orchestra or chamber group.

Sometimes a composer would be lucky enough to have a patron, someone who would pay for his work and performances, providing a steady salary.

Royalty were important patrons of music, which would have often been composed to mark significant occasions. For example, coronation anthems and operas were written to celebrate and praise particular kings and queens.

Listen to the audio clip below of 'Zadok the Priest' composed by George Handel for the coronation of King George II in 1727.

'Zadok the Priest' by Handel performed by Kings College Cambridge/English Chamber Orchestra

Musical styles

Over time composers would write music for public performances, and would create pieces to reflect a world event such as a war or create music to reflect the beauty of their country.

We are able to hear similar characteristics in music that has been created by different composers. Music and musical styles are often referred to as being from a ‘period’ in time.

Composers will have perfected the styles over the years during these periods, with some of the composers even developing new styles along the way.

Many things have influence the development of music, such as:

  • instruments and resources available to composers at the time
  • specific historical events occuring at the time the composer was alive
  • a desire to reflect society and public demand