Another art, however, was to become the most popular of all. That was music. Most of the old art forms demanded a great deal of technical skill. It takes years and years of practice before our clumsy hand is able to follow the commands of the brain and reproduce our vision upon canvas or in marble. It takes a lifetime to learn how to act or how to write a good novel. And it takes a great deal of training on the part of the public to appreciate the best in painting and writing and sculpture. But almost anyone, not entirely tone deaf, can follow a tune and almost everybody can get enjoyment out of some sort of music. The Middle Ages had heard a little music but it had been entirely the music of the church. The holy chants were subject to very severe laws of rhythm and harmony and soon these became monotonous. Besides, they could not well be sung in the street or in the marketplace.
The Troubadour

The Renaissance changed this. Music once more came into its own as the best friend of humanity, both in our happiness and in our sorrows.

The Egyptians and the Babylonians and the ancient Jews had all been great lovers of music. They had even combined different instruments into regular orchestras. But the Greeks had frowned upon this barbaric foreign noise. They liked to hear people recite the stately poetry of Homer and Pindar. They allowed him to accompany himself upon the lyre (the poorest of all stringed instruments). That was as far as anyone could go without incurring the risk of popular disapproval. The Romans on the other hand had loved orchestral music at their dinners and parties and they had invented most of the instruments which (in very modified form) we use today. The early church had despised this music which smacked too much of the wicked pagan world which had just been destroyed. A few songs rendered by the entire congregation were all the bishops of the third and fourth centuries would tolerate. As the congregation was apt to sing dreadfully out of key without the guidance of an instrument, the church had afterwards allowed the use of an organ, an invention of the second century of our era which consisted of a combination of the old pipes of Pan and a pair of bellows.

Then came the great migrations. The last of the Roman musicians were either killed or became tramp fiddlers going from city to city and playing in the street, and begging for pennies like the harpist on a modern ferryboat.

But the revival of a more worldly civilization in the cities of the late Middle Ages had created a new demand for musicians. Instruments like the horn, which had been used only as signal instruments for hunting and fighting, were remodelled until they could reproduce sounds which were agreeable in the dance hall and in the banqueting room. A bow strung with horsehair was used to play the old fashioned guitar and before the end of the Middle Ages this six-stringed instrument (the most ancient of all string instruments which dates back to Egypt and Assyria) had grown into our modern four-stringed fiddle which Stradivarius and the other Italian violin makers of the eighteenth century brought to the height of perfection.

And finally the modern piano was invented, the most widespread of all musical instruments, which has followed people into the wilderness of the jungle and the ice fields of Greenland. The organ had been the first of all keyed instruments but the performer always depended upon the cooperation of some one who worked the bellows, a job which nowadays is done by electricity. The musicians therefore looked for a handier and less circumstantial instrument to assist them in training the pupils of the many church choirs. During the great eleventh century, Guido, a Benedictine monk of the town of Arezzo (the birthplace of the poet Petrarch) gave us our modern system of musical annotation. Some time during that century, when there was a great deal of popular interest in music, the first instrument with both keys and strings was built. It must have sounded as tinkly as one of those tiny children's pianos which you can buy at every toy shop. In the city of Vienna, the town where the strolling musicians of the Middle Ages (who had been classed with jugglers and card sharps) had formed the first separate Guild of Musicians in the year 1288, the little monochord was developed into something which we can recognize as the direct ancestor of our modern Steinway. From Austria the "clavichord" as it was usually called in those days (because it had "claves" or keys) went to Italy. There it was perfected into the "spinet" which was so called after the inventor, Giovanni Spinetti of Venice. At last during the eighteenth century, some time between 1709 and 1720, Bartolomeo Cristofori made a "clavier" which allowed the performer to play both loudly and softly or as it was said in Italian, "piano" and "forte." This instrument with certain changes became our "pianoforte" or piano.

Then for the first time the world possessed an easy and convenient instrument which could be mastered in a couple of years and did not need the eternal tuning of harps and fiddles and was much pleasanter to the ears than the medieval tubas, clarinets, trombones and oboes. Just as the phonograph has given millions of modern people their first love of music so did the early "pianoforte" carry the knowledge of music into much wider circles. Music became part of the education of every well-bred man and woman. Princes and rich merchants maintained private orchestras. The musician ceased to be a wandering "jongleur" and became a highly valued member of the community. Music was added to the dramatic performances of the theater and out of this practice, grew our modern Opera. Originally only a few very rich princes could afford the expenses of an "opera troupe." But as the taste for this sort of entertainment grew, many cities built their own theaters where Italian and afterwards German operas were given to the unlimited joy of the whole community with the exception of a few sects of very strict Christians who still regarded music with deep suspicion as something which was too lovely to be entirely good for the soul.

By the middle of the eighteenth century the musical life of Europe was in full swing. Then there came forward a man who was greater than all others, a simple organist of the Thomas Church of Leipzig, by the name of Johann Sebastian Bach. In his compositions for every known instrument, from comic songs and popular dances to the most stately of sacred hymns and oratorios, he laid the foundation for all our modern music. When he died in the year 1750 he was succeeded by Mozart, who created musical fabrics of sheer loveliness which remind us of lace that has been woven out of harmony and rhythm. Then came Ludwig van Beethoven, the most tragic of men, who gave us our modern orchestra, yet heard none of his greatest compositions because he was deaf, as the result of a cold contracted during his years of poverty.

Beethoven lived through the period of the great French Revolution. Full of hope for a new and glorious day, he had dedicated one of his symphonies to Napoleon. But he lived to regret the hour. When he died in the year 1827, Napoleon was gone and the French Revolution was gone, but the steam engine had come and was filling the world with a sound that had nothing in common with the dreams of the Third Symphony.

Indeed, the new order of steam and iron and coal and large factories had little use for art, for painting and sculpture and poetry and music. The old protectors of the arts, the Church and the princes and the merchants of the Middle Ages and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries no longer existed. The leaders of the new industrial world were too busy and had too little education to bother about etchings and sonatas and bits of carved ivory, not to speak of the men who created those things, and who were of no practical use to the community in which they lived. And the workmen in the factories listened to the drone of their engines until they too had lost all taste for the melody of the flute or fiddle of their peasant ancestry. The arts became the stepchildren of the new industrial era. Art and Life became entirely separated. Whatever paintings had been left, were dying a slow death in the museums. And music became a monopoly of a few "virtuosi" who took the music away from the home and carried it to the concert hall.

But steadily, although slowly, the arts are coming back into their own. People begin to understand that Rembrandt and Beethoven and Rodin are the true prophets and leaders of their race and that a world without art and happiness resembles a nursery without laughter.


Study the lesson for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the lesson.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Study the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.
  • Answer the review questions.


In the Middle Ages, music was mostly of a religious nature. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, music flourished and its topical scope expanded. New instruments were invented such as the violin and pianoforte, and master composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart concocted their symphonic masterpieces. With the coming of the Industrial Age of steam and iron and factories, the new order obsessed with production and efficiency had little use for art and music. Art tended to be removed from life, other than a few specialists who made music or art as their profession.


Troubadour: A traveling composer and performer of songs in medieval Europe.
Pianoforte: A piano.
Clavier: The keyboard of an organ, pianoforte, or harmonium.
Horn: Generally, any brass wind instrument.
Violin: A musical four-string instrument, generally played with a bow or by plucking the string, with the pitch set by pressing the strings at the appropriate place with the fingers.
Industrial Age: The age of the Industrial Revolution, a major technological, socioeconomic, and cultural change in the late 18th and early 19th century resulting from the replacement of an economy based on manual labor to one dominated by industry and machine manufacture.


Activity 1: Narrate the Lesson

  • After you read the lesson, narrate the lesson aloud using your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Lesson Picture(s)

  • Study the lesson picture(s) and describe how they relate to the lesson.

Activity 3: Complete Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Coloring   

Click the crayon above. Complete page 53 of 'World History Activities for Fourth Grade.'


Question 1

What was the inspiration for much of the music of the Middle Ages?
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Answer 1

God and religious topics were the inspiration for much of the music of the Middle Ages.
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Question 2

Which era followed the Middle Ages, when music flourished?
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Answer 2

Music flourished during the Renaissance era, which followed the Middle Ages.
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Question 3

Which age in the 18th and 19th century resulted in an emphasis on automation and productivity at the expense of music and art?
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Answer 3

The Industrial Age resulted in an emphasis on automation and productivity at the expense of music and art.
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  1. What was the inspiration for much of the music of the Middle Ages? God and religious topics were the inspiration for much of the music of the Middle Ages.
  2. Which era followed the Middle Ages, when music flourished? Music flourished during the Renaissance era, which followed the Middle Ages.
  3. Which age in the 18th and 19th century resulted in an emphasis on automation and productivity at the expense of music and art? The Industrial Age resulted in an emphasis on automation and productivity at the expense of music and art.