1581 in music
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- October 15 – Performance of Ballet Comique de la Reine, the first narrative ballet (incorporating the story of Circe), devised by Louise of Lorraine, wife of Henry III of France, with music by the royal master of music Jacques Salmon and the bass singer Girard de Beaulieu and choreography by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, opens at the court of Catherine de' Medici in the Louvre Palace in Paris as part of the wedding celebrations for Marguerite of Lorraine.
- Ginés Pérez de la Parra becomes composer and musical director at Orihuela cathedral.
- Marc'Antonio Ingegneri becomes maestro di cappella of Cremona cathedral.
- Fabritio Caroso – Il Ballerino, Italian dance manual, containing much dance music
- Vincenzo Galilei – Dialogo della musica antica, et della moderna (Dialogue Concerning Ancient and Modern Music)
- Approximate date – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Canticum Canticorum ("Song of Songs")