Pre-requisite 4: The Industrial Revolution

Engraving of factory manufactoring silk

In the last post we discussed how music is the story of the people who listen to it. Whenever people change through the cultural events of history, music evolves and develops to meet the needs of the people. This is the fourth in a series of articles called Pre-requisites. Here I present a second example of the effect that cultural change has upon music history. (Click here for the full series of articles.)

The Industrial Revolution

For the first ten centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire money was a commodity that was held primarily by Aristocrats. Aristocrats were kings, dukes, barons, and others with titles. This would come to an end in the eighteenth century. In the mid-1700’s technology began to increase, first in Great Britain, and then throughout the rest of Europe. We call this historical phenomenon The Industrial Revolution. Now instead of taking a month for a seamstress to make a dress by hand, machines could quickly churn out dozens of dresses weekly. As a result clothing and other goods could be manufactured for much cheaper. Additionally, factories opened and vast numbers of people were employed to work in assembly lines.


For the first time in history someone could become rich by being an entrepreneur rather than having been born rich or granted riches by the monarch. These newly rich entrepreneurs were called The Middle Class. These middle-class citizens needed to spend their money on something. They attended concerts, paid for music lessons for their kids and themselves, purchased musical instruments, and subscribed to music magazines that were made abundant by the new machines that could print them quickly and efficiently.

This meant that the average musician was no longer obliged to work for the rich aristocrats in their palaces, but could work for the everyday middle-class folk. The important part of this was the middle-class people did not have the same musical tastes as aristocrats. They had a less refined taste and preferred vocal music written in the language that they spoke instead of Italian, which was the language used in most aristocrats’ palaces. Musicians changed the way they wrote music to cater to their new audience. Instead of striving for artistic perfection that aristocrats had been trained to listen for, they focused on excitement and emotion that the middle-class listeners could appreciate. They also wrote songs and operas in the languages that the middle class could understand. This was one of the driving forces behind the Romantic Movement that would come a generation later.


Schubert entertains a room of middle class music enthusiasts. 

In addition to the changing musical trend, the industrial revolution affected the very identity of musicians. Historically musicians came from musical families who flourished under the patronage of an aristocrat. In this scenario the father of the household was responsible for training his sons in the musical trade. Prominent musical families of the time were the Haydns, the Bachs, and the Mozarts. By the early 1800s we begin seeing the first professional musicians who did not come from musical families but were instead trained by the musicians that their middle-class family had hired as a tutor. Representative of this group are musicians like Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt. By the end of the nineteenth century almost all musicians were those who had trained in learning institutions around Europe and almost none were from musical families. This is still the case to this day.


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