The 19th Century – the Grand Era of Music and Music Institutions

A quick look into the history of most of the European music institutions will reveal something interesting: all of them were founded in the 19th century or just at the turn of the century. For anyone with a basic understanding of world history and music history, this makes a lot of sense. The 19th century was called the “romantic era”, there was a rising interest in music and arts, with a lot of states funding young talents and institutions where musicians could be taught. There are quite a few important changes on the social scene and it would help to better understand the role played by each of these institutions.


The 19th century was the first century in human history to experience an acceleration in development. This was the century when we lit the first light bulb, the century when the Morse Code was invented, the century when people talked over the phone for the first time. It is no wonder it has also marked the human race culturally and artistically.

Although Romanticism as a movement toward the end of the 18th century, it peaked in the 19th century. It was a response to Enlightenment, a classical and rational movement. In contrast with the rigorous ideologies of the Enlightenment, Romanticism revived the Renaissance ideals of love, aesthetics, beauty of nature, emotion and individualism. All meant to contrast with the industrialization, the urban sprawl and the increase of population numbers.


Famous portrait of Beethoven

Stieler, Joseph Karl: Beethoven mit der Missa solemnis Ölgemälde, 1819

So, what happened in the 19th century that has led to the founding of so many of the European music institutions? Beethoven happened, for starters. His music planted a flag right at the turn of the century. Other great names that have revolutionized the music scene forever, were Haydn, Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Hector Berlioz, Fryderyk Chopin, Niccolo Paganini. Only imagine what it meant to be contemporary with such musical geniuses! What it meant to be alive at a time when such amazing music was being created and how it began to shape the cultural fabric of society.

There is an increased interest in studying music and in helping young talents develop. And this is where we start to talk about the foundation of some of the first European music institutions.


The 19th century meant the beginning of the creation of the middle class. Apart from the aristocracy and the peasants, the development of towns and cities have also led to the creation of a category of people with their own means to survive. There is still a great social divide, but more people are getting the chance to be part of the constructive society, there is more emphasis of education than ever before and there is a hunger for improving one’s condition. The rise of businesses has also meant the creation of a new category of rich people and a new source of money for individuals and society.

How does romanticism fit into this social setting? The values of beauty, love and emotion are much more appealing than the rigorous ideals of the Enlightenment which only the very educated people could understand properly. Sure, this does not mean that any Tom, Dick or Harry could understand the music of Beethoven or could easily decode a painting, but it is clear that art and culture are opening the gates of knowledge to a higher number of people.


The oldest music school in Europe

Former Paris Conservatoire Building. It was moved from this location in 1911.

Former Paris Conservatoire Building. It was moved from this location in 1911.

Germany may have had its big composers rocking the classical music scene, but it was France that first saw the opportunity of creating a higher education institution dedicated to the fine art of music. Therefore, the Royal School of Singing was instituted by decree in January 1784. Following this example, in 1792 the École gratuite de la garde nationale was founded, and in 1793 it became the National music institute and became responsible for creating the National Guard musical bands.

In 1795, the French government decided to combine the two music institutions and to create the Conservatoire de music. Even though this already is the oldest Conservatoire in Europe, having been created after the combination of two other even older institutions is still impressive.

Amazing Vienna

As expected, beautiful Vienna was quick to follow. In 1812, the “Society of the Friends of Music” was founded and it became the University of Music and Performing Arts in 1817. What else could you expect from the birthplace of the waltz, if not a prestigious music institution to cultivate the creative minds that could perform beautiful music.

A real testament to the 19th century investment in music education – the numerous UK music schools

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama

The United Kingdom is proud to have a very high number of music schools and they are all founded all throughout the 19th century, from the beginning, to the end. There is a choice between several Royal music institutions, but the options do not stop here.
• The Royal Academy of London was founded in 1822,
• The Royal College of Music was founded in 1882,
• The Royal Northern College of Music was founded in 1858,
• The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland was founded in 1845,
• The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire was founded in 1886.
• The Guildhall School of Music and Drama dates back to the 19th century as well.

All throughout Europe, just like every inch of pavement is soaked in history, so are the steps of the most prestigious music institutions. Although they have modern resources, modern classes and students from all over the world, it is still the idea of attending a school that has been around since the beginning and which has opened its gates at the peak of human classical creativity. To some it is an honor, to others a source of inspiration. Either way, by taking your place in one of the classroom seats, you can almost feel like you are taking your place in the history of music as well.