An Historical Timeline


Ever since the dawn of humanity, music, even in a rudimentary form, has accompanied mankind's development.  The earliest form of music probably had its origins in the vocal efforts of the human, whether the cries of lamentation for a departed relative, the soothing hum of a mother's voice to her child or the rhythmic shouts heard in the battle cry of warriors.

Other sounds must have come by chance to the human ear, e.g. the beating of a stout stick or branch upon a stone to frighten off a threatening beast or a similar striking upon a hollow tree trunk which would have given a completely different timbre to the sound, all to the early man's delight and precursor to rhythm.

When the first humans ventured forth to a mist-clad swamp whence came the strange sound of ghostly spirits and realised that the sound came from wind blowing across reeds at the waters' margin, the blown instrument was suggested by nature to humanity.

We also find a hunter making a bow for use in the following day's hunt applying the string to the wood.  By now he had accepted that the tension of the string governed the pace and distance of the arrow.  This day, however, when tightening the string and testing the tension by plucking, he was to discover that the bow-string produced a sound.  Much later his mind was to discover that the tighter and consequently shorter the string, the higher was the sound.

Blowing across and through an animal horn must also have been gifted by nature to suggest a more forceful sound than a blown reed or flute.

Now to an historical survey of the accumulation of humanity's music making.

B.C. 4th Millennium

Sumerian temple ritual - hymns chanted within a poetical form of

B.C. 3005 - 2776

Egyptian Middle Kingdom.  Tambourine used for rhythm and the
               Sehem & Sesheshem (2 different sistra) in rituals of
               a Goddess.  (Note the name Sesheshem which is
               onomatopoetic, suggesting the sound of the sistrum.)

B.C. c. 2100

Sumerian temple ritual - antiphonal chanting.

                    Sem (reed pipe)
                    Tig (vertical flute)
                    Balag (drum)
                    Lilis (kettledrum)
                    Adapa (tambourine)
                    Algar (lyre)
                    Zagsal (harp with lower sounding  chest)
                    Zaggal (harp with upper sounding chest)

B.C. c. 1590

Jewish temple.  Singing by women - body movements

                Accompanied by:
                    Tof (tabret).
                    Also in use:
                    Shofar (ram’s horn)
                    Hazozra (trumpet)
                    Pa’amon ( bells on priests’ robes for protection - (vide
                    “Song of Miriam in Exodus).

B.C. 973 - 933

  Solomon’s temple.  Psalms sung by priests and accompanied by:

                    Kinnor (lyre)
                    Nevel (10 stringed harp)
                    Mziltaim (cymbals to show pauses in the psalms)
                    Hazozra (trumpet) in pairs
                    120 trumpets & 248 singers (vide Chronicles)

B.C. c. 700

Chaldea.  Musical theory linked with mathematics and
                astrology.  Cosmic
correspondences demonstrated by
                harmonic divisions of a stretched string.

               4 intervals: 1:1 (unison); 1:2 (octave); 2:3 (fifth);
               3:4 (fourth).
               These ratios corresponded to the four seasons (vide
               Plutarch).  Pythagoras
brought these sciences back to

B.C. 6th - 5th centuries

India.  Scenes from sacred epics form sacred musical dance
           dramas, a
tradition surviving today in the Kathakali of
           Kerala in the south.
(vide Mahabharata & B.C. 6th - 5th
           centuries Ramayana)

B.C. c.235

          Hydraulis (water organ) invented by the Egyptian
Ctesibius of
Alexandria (246 B.C. - 221 B.C.)

A.D. 1st century

Jewish temple. Chorus of Levites with 9 lyres, 2 harps, 1 pair of
and 2 Halilim (double oboes) on festival
                         days.  Megrepha in use - a small
organ which
                         was more like a syrinx.

Christian precentors had been brought up in Jewish houses of
worship, therefore early Christian music is traced to that of the Hebrew Temple.

A.D. 4th century  ..

Start of synagogues.  Rabbis discouraged contact with secular
                                   music -
banning instruments from worship.
First Christians were Jews and therefore had no need to invent
                         a new
music for the cult.

                         Age old melodic formulas adaptable to the 3
                         canticles of the new cult -
Magnificat, Nunc
                         Dimitis and Benedictus.  Psalm singing retained
responsorial by a soloist with choral refrain.

A.D. c. 350

Antioch.  Psalms sung antiphonally by alternate choruses of
               men and
women.  St. Ambrose introduced this method
               to the west in 387.
  Each psalm ended with the “Gloria

A.D. end of 6th century

Pope Gregory reformed melodies & hymns and established a
liturgy which was followed by the Catholic
                       Church thereafter.  Lutherans
and Anglicans
                       preserved the Gregorian chant after the
  Music essentially ‘monody’.

A.D. c. 9th century

Tenors and basses started to sing the chants at their own pitch.
Sometimes the bass held a ‘pedal’ note or drone.  From this primitive device sprang ‘organum’ or ‘diaphony’.  In time it was noted that the voices need not proceed in parallel parts.

A.D. c. 1000

Contemporary folk music influence entered but was curbed later when in:---

A.D. 1563

Pope Pius 4th commissioned 8 cardinals, the most active of whom were Cardinals Borromeo & Vitellozzi, to reform church music.  They in turn commissioned Palestrina to compose 3 masses and the favourite chosen was 'Missa Papae Marcelli' - an example for future composition by all composers of church music. This Papal decree ensured that the "restrained purity" of music be retained.
Musical development, therefore, received a restraint that was to hold back its natural vitality for some 500 years as all folk idiom was banned.

If, as has been suggested on many occasions by various sources, ancient Egypt had been settled by survivors of the Atlantean cataclysm, then Western music indeed may have its rudimentary origins in the musical art forms of Ancient Atlantis.

Copyright ©  Gareth Pengwerin 1996
All rights reserved             
A synopsis from my teaching days.
Music - final chorus of the Bach St. Matthew Passion...
(a memory of my choral conducting in the 1960s, 70s & 80s)
........... ...........................