History Timelines


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.


First volume of Diderot’s Encyclopédie published in France; Richard Brinsley Sheridan born.

Gluck’s opera seria La Clemenza de Tito premiered in Naples; Clementi born; Rousseau’s opera Le Devin du village performed for Louis XV, who offers Rousseau a pension for life – he turns it down!


John Nash born; Fanny Burney born; performance of Pergolesi’s opera buffa La serva padrona in Paris sparks the ‘Querelle des Bouffons’ (‘Quarrel of the Comic Actors’), between Italian comic opera and French tragic opera. 

C.P.E. Bach’s Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments: admired by Haydn and Beethoven and the definitive work on keyboard technique.


The British Museum founded after collector Sir Hans Sloane bequeaths his collection of 71,000 objects to King George II for the nation.  


Fielding dies; Hume’s History of Great Britain (Vol. 1).

Johann Stamitz Orchestral Trios, Op. 1.


Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language published.

Mozart born; Mozart’s father Leopold publishes a textbook on violin technique, which today gives an insight into how people played the violin in the 18th century.


Seven Years’ War begins: Britain and Prussia allied against France and Austria.

Domenico Scarlatti dies; Johann Stamitz dies: he has founded the Mannheim school of composers and the style of his music crosses from the Baroque to Classical eras.


Edmund Burke’ A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. The idea of favouring ‘the sublime’ influences Romanticism; Blake born.

Haydn is writing his first symphonies – he is now known as the ‘father of the symphony’ as well as the ‘father of the string quartet’.


Handel dies.


Voltaire’s Candide pokes fun at optimistic philosophies such as those associated with Leibnitz and Rousseau; Wedgwood starts his factory in Staffordshire – art and industry are combined.

Cherubini born.


George III becomes King of Great Britain: there will be a lot of military conflicts during his reign, including the American War of Independence, and he suffers mental illness; Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (first part) published.

Haydn begins his 30-year employment with the Esterházy family.


Building of the Bridgewater Canal is completed to transport coal from mines in Worsley to Manchester: the Industrial Revolution is underway.

Orfeo ed Euridice marks Gluck’s reform of opera – he reduces the complexity and brings to it a ‘noble simplicity’; J.C. Bach appointed composer to King’s Theatre, London.


Catherine the Great becomes Empress of Russia and promotes Western and Enlightenment values – a golden age for Russia; Rousseau’s Social Contract published – helps inspire the French Revolution.

Mozart and his sister begin touring Europe as child performers, staying in Paris and London.


Seven Years’ War ends – Great Britain’s success helps to pave the way for the British Empire.

Rameau dies; Mozart meets J.C. Bach in London – he will be influenced by J.C. Bach’s music.


James Hargreaves invents the Spinning Jenny; Hogarth dies.

The London subscription concerts of J.C. Bach and C.F. Abel will continue until 1781: the concept of the recital programme has arrived.


Joseph II becomes Holy Roman Emperor – with Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great, one of the Enlightenment monarchs and a great lover of music.


Gainsborough paints Johann Christian Bach.

Telemann dies; premiere of Gluck’s Alceste.


C.P.E. Bach succeeds Telemann as director of music for the five principal churches in Hamburg.


Royal Academy of Arts founded in London; Canaletto dies; Sterne dies.

12-year-old Mozart writes his first opera, La finta semplice.


Napoleon Bonaparte born; James Watt’s steam engine patented.

Beethoven (1770–1827) born – he will go on to bridge the Classical and Romantic eras and be hugely influential.


William Wordsworth (1770–1850) born; Tiepolo dies.

Carl Stamitz’s Six Symphonies, Op. 6 published.


Walter Scott (1771–1832) born – he will become a very popular novelist and a major influence on the romantics.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, (‘Farewell’) and String Quartets. Op. 20; Mozart Lucio Silla.


Choderlos de Laclos Les Liaisons dangéreuses.

C.P.E. Bach’s Six Symphonies.


Coleridge born.

Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, which Wagner will later revise.


Accession of Louis XVI to French throne; Goethe The Sorrows of Young Werther; Caspar David Friedrich born.


J.M.W. Turner born; Jane Austen born; Beaumarchais Le Barbier de Séville.

First volume of Charles Burney’s History of Music proves popular and sets a standard for future overviews of musical history.


Declaration of American Independence; Constable born; E.T.A. Hoffmann born; Hume dies; Gibbon The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Vol. 1); Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations.

Mozart travels to Mannheim and Paris.


Sheridan The School for Scandal.

Hummel born.


Rousseau dies; Voltaire dies; Fanny Burney Evelina.

Mozart Sinfonia concertante, K. 364.


Vanhal Three Symphonies, Op. 10.


French neoclassical painter Ingres (1780–1867) born.

Mozart’s Idomeneo, an opera seria in Italian, performed in Munich, Germany; Mozart moves to Vienna and attempts to forge a life as an independent composer.


Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason develops the philosophical framework through which the Romantic composers will see the world.

Paganini born; J.C. Bach dies; Haydn String Quartets, Op. 33; Paisiello Il barbiere di Siviglia.


Rousseau’s Confessions published – one of the first autobiographies.


Russia annexes Crimea; Stendhal born.

Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 449, 450, 451 & 456.


Johnson dies; Beaumarchais’s Le Mariage de Figaro performed.

Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 466 & 467; Mozart dedicates a set of six string quartets to Haydn.


Edmund Cartwright’s power loom mechanises the cotton industry.

Mozart’s comic opera The Marriage of Figaro, based on Beaumarchais’s recent play, composed and performed – still considered one of the greatest operas; Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 488 & 491 and Symphony, K. 504 (‘Prague’).


Burns Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni mixes comic and serious action – another masterpiece.


The US Constitution – the supreme law of the United States – is passed; Schiller Don Carlos.

C.P.E. Bach dies; Mozart Symphonies, K. 543, 550 & 551 (‘Jupiter’).


Poet and politician Byron born – he will become a leading figure in the Romantic movement; Gainsborough dies; Soane begins to rebuild and extend the Bank of England.


French Revolution begins; George Washington becomes first US president; Blake Songs of Innocence.

Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy dies – his successor Anton has less need of Haydn, who now becomes free to travel; Mozart Così fan tutte.


Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson published.

Mozart writes some of his greatest works – The Magic Flute, the final piano concerto, the Clarinet Concerto, the Requiem – before his death this same year; Haydn begins his ‘London’ Symphonies.


Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man argues that revolution is acceptable if a government does not look after the rights of all its people; Brandenburg gate completed in Berlin.

Rossini born; Haydn Symphony No. 94 (‘Surprise’); Beethoven moves to Vienna.


French republic declared; Construction of the White House in Washington D.C. begins; Joshua Reynolds dies; Shelley born; Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.


Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette executed in Paris; France at war with Britain, Spain and the Netherlands; Louvre – a great art museum – opens in Paris.

Haydn makes a second journey to London.


France abolishes slavery in its colonies; Gibbon dies; Blake Songs of Experience.

Haydn completes his twelve ‘London’ Symphonies; Beethoven Piano Trios, Op. 1.


John Keats (1795–1821) is born – in his brief life he will become one of the great Romantic poets.

Haydn Missa in tempore belli.


Edward Jenner pioneers the world’s first vaccine (for smallpox), saving countless lives; Napoleon leads the French army and invades Italy.

Schubert born; Donizetti born.


Venice surrenders to the French; Coleridge Kubla Khan.

Haydn The Creation and ‘Nelson’ Mass.


Delacroix born – he will lead the French Romantic school of art; French capture Rome; English under Nelson defeat French at battle of Nile; music journal Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung is started in Leipzig – music criticism becomes important.


French driven from Italy by alliance of Britain, Austria, Russia, Naples, Turkey; Napoleon becomes First Consul and re-imposes order in France; Goya’s Los Caprichos, a series of prints, depict the follies of society. 

Beethoven writes his First Symphony.


Bellini born.


Sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens and brought to London by Lord Elgin.

Beethoven writes his letter called the ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’ – he is in despair as he realises he is going deaf.


Dumas born; Victor Hugo born.

Berlioz born; Beethoven works on his Symphony No. 3, ‘Eroica’ – a work that shows music shifting from the Classical to the Romantic era.


Napoleonic Wars begin: French Empire led by Napoleon against various European coalitions; France sells Louisiana to the USA; John Dalton develops his atomic theory – the first attempt to describe all matter in terms of atoms and their properties.

Glinka born.


Bonaparte declares himself ‘Emperor of the French’ and is crowned; Schiller writes his play William Tell.

Premiere of Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio in Vienna. 


Lord Nelson achieves victory for the British at the Battle of Trafalgar, which starts the process that will end in Napoleon’s defeat, but he loses his life in the process.

Beethoven writes his Violin Concerto.


Isambard Kingdom Brunel born – he will become a great engineer in England.


Slavery outlawed by the British parliament thanks to a campaign led by William Wilberforce – though slavery would still continue until its abolition in 1833.

Premieres of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6, Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 4 – all in one concert, in Vienna.


Napoleon’s troops occupy Spain; Caspar David Friedrich paints Cross in the Mountains; Part 1 of Goethe’s play Faust is published.

Mendelssohn born; Haydn dies; Beethoven composes Piano Concerto No. 5 (‘Emperor’).


British forces under Wellesley (later Wellington) sent to defend Portugal; Tennyson born.

Chopin born; Schumann born; Paganini makes his first tour of Europe.


Goya begins his series of etchings The Disasters of War.

The Classical Period

(c. 1730–1830)

It was during the Classical era that many genres – like the symphony and the sonata, for instance – solidified into the well-known forms we recognise today. Composers like Mozart and Haydn used these forms to write elegant, sophisticated music for their patrons (wealthy, powerful aristocrats who supported them financially). But their work wasn’t always polite and serene – it could be stormy too, and towards the end of the eighteenth century people’s attitudes towards music (and art in general) began to change. It wasn’t just considered pretty, light-hearted entertainment anymore – it could express all sorts of emotions and ideas.