How is music connected to history?

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Music may be connected to history in several ways. When a nation becomes independent, it adopts a national anthem. Certain musical styles and genres may become common during a particular historical era that they come to represent them. A prime example is labeling the 1920s in the United States as the “Jazz Age.” Particular musical compositions may also become iconic in their association with social and political movements. Another US example is Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a primary symbol of the Civil War. As class divisions develop in society, the cultural institutions that support music and the buildings in which they perform also develop; world capitals and other major cities typically have a symphony and an opera company that depend on a combination of state support and private philanthropy. Alternative representations of the times may also become shorthand for the period, such as the Woodstock music festival symbolizing the 1960s.

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Music is part of the culture and “personality” of a country (or even a geographic region). As such, it is part of the “biography” of that area, part of the changes brought about by other historical events, such as invasions, technological developments, and leaders (see the “Great Man” theory of historical change). So changes in music are part of the historical “record” of a region. Take, for example, the birth of Mozart – his musical innovations affected  all of Europe’s whole cultural signature. An even clearer geography example can be found in the Austrian Joseph Haydn’s influence on Britain’s culture, stemming from his visits in 1790-1791 and later. In modern times, the Beatles became part of America’s popular cultural history with the advent of “The British Invasion” in 1964. In another direction, we can view history itself by reflecting on the kind of music that a given historical period embraced. Jazz, for example, gives a good example of the image, the texture, of the roaring ‘20s. So, speaking generally, one can say that the background “sound track” of history is its musical signature.

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