History Timelines


Euridice, with music by Peri and Caccini, is performed in the Florence of Henry IV and Mary de’ Medici. The earliest surviving opera.


Henry IV of France marries Marie de’ Medici and ensures the interchange of ideas and fashions between France and the Italian States.

Monteverdi becomes maestro di cappella at Mantua.


Shakespeare’s Hamlet performed; Rubens employed at Mantua.

Caccini’s Le nuove musiche, a collection of songs with instrumental harmonic accompaniment – one of the earliest examples of early Baroque music.


Dutch East India Company established. Trade is shrinking the world and encouraging the sharing of ideas.


Queen Elizabeth I dies. The Stuarts come to the English throne.

John Dowland: Lachmrimae or Seven Teares.


Shakespeare’s Othello performed.

Monteverdi publishes his fifth book of madrigals.


Cervantes’ Don Quixote (part 1), a Spanish masterpiece, mocks the old world of chivalry.


Rembrandt (1606–1669) born – now considered to have been one of the greatest ever artists.

Monteverdi: L’Orfeo. The first great opera, and the earliest one still commonly performed.


Virginia, the first permanent English colony in the New World, founded.

Monteverdi’s L’Arianna: now lost.


John Milton (1608–1674) born; Caravaggio finishes painting The Beheading of St John the Baptist.

Thomas Ravenscroft publishes Pammelia – a book of English rounds and canons; Schütz studies in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli.


Shakespeare’s Sonnets first published; Kepler publishes his first two laws of planetary motion.

Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin or Vespers of 1610.


Caravaggio dies; Henry IV assassinated, succeeded by Louis XIII; Galileo observes moons of Jupiter.

Parthenia with music by Byrd, Bull and Gibbons – the first printed collection of keyboard music in England.


Completion of King James Bible (or Authorized Version): the Bible could now be read in English.

Giovanni Gabrieli dies.


Monteverdi takes up a job of maestro di cappella at St Mark’s, Venice.


First part of Syntagma musicum by Michael Praetorius published: good resource for music theory in the 17th century.


Dutch found colony of New Amsterdam, later New York; El Greco dies

Schütz ‘borrowed’ by Dresden court then given permanent job.


Cervantes’ Don Quixote (part 2).


Galileo promises not to teach Copernican system; Shakespeare dies; Cervantes dies.


Murillo born – he will become the leading painter in Seville.

Caccini, one of the most influential founders of the new Baroque style, dies


Thirty Years’ War begins: German states, Holland, Scandinavia and England (Protestant) vs. Habsburg Empire and Spain (Catholic).

Schütz’s Psalmen Davids.


The Mayflower Expedition – the Pilgrim Fathers arrive at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Sweelinck dies; Praetorius dies.


Molière (1622–1673) born – he will become one of France’s and the world’s greatest writers.

Byrd dies.


Shakespeare’s First Folio is published.

Tabulatura nova by Samuel Scheidt the first famous German composer of organ music.


England and Spain at war.

Gibbons dies. Cantiones sacrae (sacred vocal pieces) by Schütz first published.


Charles I becomes king of England.

Dowland dies. Louis XIII establishes Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi – a five-part string orchestra at the French royal court.


Dafne, the first German opera (now lost), by Schütz.


Siege of Huguenots at La Rochelle by Cardinal Richelieu.


Huguenots surrender and forfeit political rights.

Heinrich Schütz, Sacrae symphoniae I, a collection of sacred vocal pieces using Latin text.


Charles I dissolves English parliament; Bernini becomes principal architect of St Peter’s, Rome.


Sir Christopher Wren (1630-1723), Mathematician and Architect, is born. He will go on to build St. Paul’s Cathedral and much else.


John Dryden (1631-1700), the great poet and playwright is born. He will inspire Purcell amongst others.

Lully born; Monteverdi’s second collection of Scherzi musicali (‘Musical Jokes’) published.


Births of Christopher Wren (he will build St Paul’s Cathedral), John Locke (Enlightenment philosopher – an empiricist), Spinoza (Enlightenment philosopher – rationalist) and Vermeer (Dutch painter).

Peri dies.


Galileo is put before the Inquisition and forced to renounce Copernicus’s theories.

Banchieri dies; Henry Lawes provides music for Milton’s new mask Comus.


Rubens completes cycle of paintings for ceiling of Banqueting Hall in Whitehall.

Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali published – a collection of liturgical organ music that will influence other composers for two centuries or more.


Rembrant paints Belshazzar’s Feast (c.1635–38); Cardinal Richelieu founds L’Académie française, which still exists to regulate French grammar, spelling and literature.


Harvard University is founded. America is beginning to study!

Teatro San Cassiano, the first public opera house, opens in Venice; Buxtehude born.


Philosopher René Descartes publishes his Discourse on Method, highly influential and famous for the statement: ‘I think, therefore I am’.

Monteverdi’s Book 8 of madrigals – Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (‘Madrigals of Love and War’) – a landmark in music.


Monteverdi’s opera Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (‘The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland’) first performed in Venice (1639–40).


French playwright Jean Racine born.


Portugal wins back independence from Spain; Descartes publishes Meditations on First Philosophy; Rubens dies


Palais Royal built; Van Dyck dies.

Monteverdi’s final opera, L’incoronazione de Poppea, first performed.


First English Civil War (1642–6) begins in England: parliamentarians (‘Roundheads’) fight Charles I’s royalists (‘Cavaliers’) over who should run the country.

Charpentier born; Monteverdi dies.


Isaac Newton (1643–1727) born. He will become famous for his laws of motion and theory of gravity; Louis XIV becomes king of France.

Antonio Stradivari born in Cremona – he will craft top-quality string instruments when he’s older; Barbara Strozzi publishes her first book of madrigals.


Bernini begins work on Cornaro chapel in S. Maria della Vittoria, Rome, combining architecture, sculpture and painting to create a strong dramatic effect.

Cavalli’s Egisto performed at Palais Royal, Paris.


Pelham Humfrey born.


Schütz’s Geistliche Chormusik (a collection of German motets) is printed; Carissimi’s Jephte written around this time.


Peace of Westphalia – a series of treaties – brings an end to the Thirty Years’ War. Europe will have no more large-scale religious wars.

John Blow born.


Charles I is beheaded and Cromwell’s Commonwealth begins. 


Descartes dies.

First publication of John Playford’s English Dancing Master – containing music and instructions for English country dances.


Civil War ends in England: Parliamentarians (‘Roundheads’) are victorious at the Battle of Worcester.


Dutch found colony at Cape of Good Hope.

Lully is made a royal composer at the French court; Corelli and Pachelbel born.


Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector of England.

Scheidt dies.


Sweden declares war on Poland.

Marin Marais, French viol player and composer, born.


Swedish victory at Warsaw; Velásquez paints Las Maninas (‘The Maids of Honour’).


Giuseppe Torelli born.


Henry Purcell born. He will become the greatest English composer of the Baroque era.


Samuel Pepys begins his diaries and offers a peerless, and racy, account of contemporary life.

Alessandro Scarlatti born – he will write operas and have a son who will become famous too: Domenico.


The Commonwealth ends with the Restoration of the monarchy in England under Charles II; Samuel Pepys begins his diary, to become a primary source of historical information; Royal Society founded – a big step for science.

Couperin dies; Louis XIV makes Lully ‘Superintendant of the music of the King’ at the French court – i.e. very important!


Work begins at Louis XIV’s Versailles to transform it into the grandest palace in Europe.


Boyle’s Law – an important law in chemistry relating pressure and volume; Blaise Pascal dies aged only 39 – among many achievements, he had invented a calculator.


Turks begin to advance through the Balkans.

Lully collaborates with French writer Molière.


Molière’s Tartuffe – a famous theatrical comedy – first performed; New Amsterdam passes to English control and is renamed New York.


The Great Plague of London – the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague – kills c. 100,000 people.

Accademia Filarmonica founded in Bologna.


The Great Fire of London destroys much of the City.


John Milton’s masterpiece, Paradise Lost, published.

François Couperin born; Buxtehude becomes organist at Marienkirche, Lübeck; Blow becomes organist at Westminster Abbey, London.


Triple Alliance formed of England, Sweden and Dutch Republic formed to support Spain against France; La Fontaine’s first volume of Selected Fables published.

Founding of the Académie royale de musique in Paris – known as the Paris Opéra.


Rembrandt dies; Venice cedes part of Crete to the Turks.


Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, a comic play with music, dance and singing, first performed; Pascal’s Pensées published.

Albinoni born.


Turks declare war on Poland; Leibniz begins work on a calculating machine.

Lully becomes the only person allowed to put on an opera without paying; first concerts in London charging admission for entry; Schütz dies.




Molière dies.

Carissimi dies; Lully’s Alceste is performed.


Royal Observatory built at Greenwich.

Marin Marais appointed as musician to court of Versaille; Cavalli dies.


Turkey gains Polish Ukraine.


Spinoza dies.

Vivaldi born.


John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress provides a Protestant narrative of the Christian journey through life.

Purcell succeeds Blow as organist at Westminster Abbey, London; Alessandro Scarlatti’s first opera is produced in Rome.


Comédie-Française founded in Paris – now considered the oldest active theatre in the world.

Telemann born; Corelli publishes Trio Sonatas, Op. 1.


William Penn is given a charter to found Pennsylvania in North America.


Peter the Great becomes Tsar of Russian Empire – he is only 10! His mother is regent. But he will begin to modernise Russia when he is older.

Rameau born; John Blow’s Venus and Adonis written for the court of Charles II – it is the earliest-known English opera.


Battle of Vienna: a turning-point in the Ottoman–Habsburg wars. The Turkish threat to the Christian world now decreases.

Alessandro Scarlatti becomes maestro di cappella at the Naples court; Biber is Kapellmeister at Salzburg.


Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) is born – a French painter who revitalised the Baroque style.

A miraculous year: births of three future masters of Baroque music: J.S. Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti.


Catholic James II becomes king of England; Emigration of French Huguenots after Edict of Nantes is revoked.

Lully’s Armide performed at Paris Opéra; Nicola Porpora born.


League of Augsburg formed: Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Sweden etc. vs. France, to try to stop plans of Louis XIV to expand France. 

The dominant figure in the music of Louis XIV’s France, Lully, dies; Geminiani born.


Isaac Newton’s Principia mathematica explains planetary motion and the theory of gravity.


Glorious Revolution in England: Whig lords invite Protestant William of Orange to invade; John Bunyan dies.

Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas performed.


War of the Grand Alliance (1689–97): the third major war for Louis XIV, in which his plans for expansion were blocked by an alliance led by England, Netherlands and Austrian Habsburgs.


Philosopher John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.


Andrea Pozzo begins ceiling frescoes for St Ignazio, Rome.

Purcell’s spectacular masque The Fairy-Queen first performed at the Queen’s Theatre in London; Tartini born.


Anglo-Dutch fleet defeats French at La Hogue.

Couperin is made one of four organists of the king at Versailles.


Robert Boyle’s General History of the Air published.


Bank of England established. Government finances are put on a firm footing and this helps Great Britain’s slow ascent to political pre-eminence.

Purcell dies tragically young; Locatelli born; Jeremiah Clarke is organist at St Paul’s, London.


La Fontaine dies.

Kuhnau’s Sieben Suonaten: the earliest publication where ‘sonata’ means music for a solo instrument.


Peter the Great of Russia takes Azov from Turkey.

Leclair born; Quantz born; Estienne Roger sets up a music publishing business in Amsterdam.


Nine Years’ War between France and the Grand Alliance ends with the Peace of Ryswick; Canaletto born; Hogarth born; Charles Perrault’s Contes de ma mère l’oye published – fairytales are popular with aristocrats in Paris.


Pietro Metastasio born.


The construction of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire begins – it will take over 100 years to complete!; Racine dies.

Cristofori, a harpsichord maker, has begun work on inventing the piano (or ‘fortepiano’, as these early instruments are called).


War breaks out between Russia and Sweden (until 1721) for control of the Baltic; Dryden dies.


War of Spanish Succession begins (until 1714): alliance of England, Netherlands, German states and Empire vs. France.

Georg Philipp Telemann establishes the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig.


First English daily newspaper, Daily Courant, and the beginning of a revolution in communications.

Vivaldi becomes maestro di violino at the Ospedale della Pietà, Venice; J.S. Bach becomes organist at Neukirche, Arnstadt.


Peter the Great builds a new capital: St Petersburg.

Biber dies; Charpentier dies; Handel is playing in the Hamburg opera orchestra.


Allied forces under Marlborough defeat French at Blenheim, England; Newton’s Optics published.

Bach walks c. 280 miles / c. 400 km to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude play the organ; Handel’s first opera, Almira, produced in Hamburg.


Halley predicts (correctly) that a comet seen in 1682 will return in 1758.

Handel goes to Italy and stays until 1710, acquiring a knowledge of Italian opera; Pachelbel dies.


Buxtehude dies; Bach is organist at Mühlhausen; Hotteterre publishes the first flute tutor.


Act of Union joins England and Scotland in one kingdom; George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem produced in London.

Bach is court organist at Weimer, where he stays until 1717; Blow dies.


Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) born: he will produce the first great English dictionary; Abraham Derby first smelts iron using coke; first successful imitation in Europe of Chinese porcelain.

Handel leaves Italy for Hanover, then London; Pergolesi born.


A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge by Irish philosopher George Berkeley.

Tuning fork invented by John Shore – makes it easier to tune instruments; Vivaldi’s Op. 3 Concertos, L’estro armonico; Handel’s first opera for London, Rinaldo.


Royal porcelain factory opened at Meissen, Saxony; Hume born; Addison and Steele found The Spectator.

Handel settles permanently in London.


Rousseau born; Alexander Pope writes The Rape of the Lock.

Arcangelo Corelli dies. He has been a pioneer in the development of the sonata and concerto and the pre-eminence of the violin.


The Peace of Utrecht ends a series of wars and preserves balance of power in Europe by ensuring Spain and France do not merge; Frederick William I of Prussia’s reign begins.

C.P.E. Bach born – he will become a major figure in the transition from Baroque to Classical music; Gluck born; Vivaldi’s Op. 4 Concertos, La stravaganza.


Fahrenheit makes a mercury thermometer; George I becomes King of Great Britain and Ireland – the power of monarchy will reduce in his reign and a modern system of cabinet government led by a prime minister will emerge.


Louis XIV of France dies.

François Couperin’s L’Art de toucher le clavecin first published – it instructed keyboard players on performance practice and was highly influential.


Karlskirche, Vienna begun, designed by Johann Fischer von Erlach.

Handel’s Water Music performed on the Thames for George I; J.S. Bach completes Orgelbüchlein full of chorale preludes before leaving Weimar to become Kapellmeister at Anhalt-Cöthen.


Vivaldi tours Italy; J.S. Bach writes his 2nd and 3rd ‘Brandenburg’ Concertos.


Leopold Mozart (father of Wolfgang Amadeus) born.


Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe explores the loneliness of man.

The castrato Farinelli begins his rise to one of the greatest opera singers of all time; Domenico Scarlatti takes up a post at court in Lisbon.


Financial disaster in England: the ‘South Sea Bubble’; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduces smallpox inoculation.

J.S. Bach marries his second wife, Anna Magdalena; Telemann becomes music director of five main churches in Hamburg.


Russian victory over Sweden: Peter the Great proclaimed Emperor of all Russians; Watteau dies.

J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I; Telemann becomes director of Hamburg opera.


Defoe’s Moll Flanders published.

J.S. Bach moves to Leipzig to become Cantor of Thomaskirche and concentrates on church music.


Christopher Wren dies; painter Joshua Reynolds born.

Handel’s opera, Giulio Cesare, first performed in London; J.S. Bach’s St John Passion first performed on Good Friday in Leipzig.


Philosopher Immanuel Kant born.

Vivaldi violin concertos The Four Seasons published; Alessandro Scarlatti dies.


St Petersburg Academy of Science founded.

Music historian Charles Burney born.


Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels published; Voltaire sent from the Bastille to England where he spends two and a half years in exile.

Supporters of rival Italian opera divas Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzon cause chaos in London: performances are cancelled; J.S. Bach writes his St Matthew Passion.


Gainsborough born.

Pepusch and Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera produced in London and hugely popular: it makes fun of Italian opera.


First edition of Ephraim Chambers’s Cyclopaedia; Canaletto paints The Stonemason’s Yard; John Harrison invents the marine chronometer for calculating longitude at sea.


Pietro Guarneri, a son in the Guarneri family, begins making highly prized string instruments in Venice – the Guarneri family rivalled the Amati and Stradivari families.


Metastasio settles in Vienna and begins to write his finest dramas – he becomes the most important writer of opera seria libretti.


Defoe dies; Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut published – it will be adapted by several opera composers, including Puccini.

Franz Joseph Haydn born; first public performance of Handel’s oratorio Esther.


Construction of the first Royal Opera House, Covent Garden completed (it will be rebuilt twice following fires in the 19th century).

J.S. Bach writes the Kyrie and Gloria of his B minor Mass; Couperin dies; Telemann’s Musique de table or Tafelmusik published.


Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man published, a poem that made ‘optimistic philosophy’ popular.

J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.


Voltaire’s Philosophical Letters, in praise of liberty and tolerance; Hogarth’s series of eight paintings A Rake’s Progress completed and engraved.

J.C. Bach born; Rameau’s Les Indes galantes.


Linnaeus produces his system for classifying plants and animals.

Pergolesi dies.


Turkey at war with Russia.

Rameau’s Castor et Pollux first performed in Paris; Stradivari dies, aged 93.


Duchy of Tuscany comes under Habsburg control; Radcliffe Camera, Oxford designed by James Gibbs.


Roller spinning machine patented by Lewis Paul and John Wyatt in Birmingham, England – the first spinning machine; Papal bull issued against Freemasonry.

Handel’s oratorio Saul first performed, at the King’s Theatre in London; Handel writes his Concerti grossi, Op. 6.


Samuel Richardson’s Pamela published.

C.P.E. Bach becomes harpsichordist at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin; Haydn is a boy treble at St Stephen’s in Vienna.


Emperor Charles VI succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresa – the only female ruler of the Habsburg Empire – the War of Austrian Succession begins; George Anson begins his circumnavigation of the globe (finishing in 1744).

Vivaldi dies; Gluck’s first opera, Artaserse, performed.


Stockholm Academy of Science founded.

Handel’s Messiah is first performed in Dublin.


Swedish astronomer and physicist Anders Celsius proposes the centigrade temperature scale, which is now named after him.

Boccherini born.


Hogarth begins his Marriage A-la-Mode; Maria Theresa crowned queen of Bohemia.

Handel’s Semele performed at Covent Garden; J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II published, completing his 48 preludes and fugues.


Frederick the Great of Prussia invades Saxony; Alexander Pope dies.


Invention of the Leyden jar for storing electricity.

Handel composes his oratorio Judas Maccabeus.


Goya born; Canaletto moves to England.

J.S. Bach composes The Musical Offering based on a musical theme given to him by Frederick the Great.


Samuel Johnson begins work on his dictionary.


Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ends War of Austrian Succession ends after nine years – Maria Theresa remains the Habsburg monarch and Prussia emerges as a major power; Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa published.

Handel’s Susanna and Solomon first performed; Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks performed in Green Park, London.


German writer Goethe (1749–1832) born – he will participate in the ‘Stürm und Drang’ (‘Storm and Stress’) literary and musical movement (1760s–1780s) – extremes of emotion were expressed.

J.S. Bach dies – his music is now thought old-fashioned by many. A new era is dawning.


Tiepolo commissioned to decorate archbishop’s palace at Würzburg; Fielding’s Tom Jones published.

The Baroque

(c. 1600–1750)

The Baroque era saw lots and lots of far-reaching developments – technological, theoretical and stylistic – and its music is pretty dynamic too! New instruments, new genres and new harmonies were thrown into the mix, and many composers tried to outdo each other in creating music that was increasingly complex and intricate. Most of the famous ones (like Bach, for instance) were either employed by the church or by a wealthy nobleman who paid them to write music for important occasions. It was for occasions like these that a new and extravagant genre emerged: opera.