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- January 2 – Sigismond Thalberg is given a farewell concert by the Academy of Music, New York.
- January 14 – While on their way to the Paris Opéra, Napoleon III of France and Empress Eugénie are attacked by a would-be assassin. The emperor proceeds to attend the performance.
- January 25 – The "Wedding March" by Felix Mendelssohn is played at the marriage of Queen Victoria's daughter "Vicky" (Victoria, Princess Royal) to Prince Friedrich of Prussia in St James's Palace, London, leading to its becoming popular wedding music.
- January 30 – Hallé Orchestra founded by Charles Hallé in Manchester, England.
- February 20 – Giacomo Meyerbeer pays Mathilde Heine 4,500 francs not to publish four poems by her late husband Heinrich Heine.
- April 7 – Richard Wagner's affair with Mathilde Wesendonck is discovered by his wife; he leaves Zurich shortly afterwards.
- June 17 – Modest Musorgsky resigns from the Preobrazhensky Regiment to take up music full-time.
- September 7 – Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom opens Leeds Town Hall; the celebratory concert marks the first Leeds Festival.
- September 16 – 16-year-old pianist Jules Massenet gives his first recital.
- October 6 – Edvard Grieg enters Leipzig Conservatory, having had his talent recognised by Ole Bull.
- October 21 – Jacques Offenbach's operetta Orpheus in the Underworld, featuring music associated with the can-can, is first performed, at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens in Paris.
- Arthur Sullivan goes to Leipzig to study music.
- The Harvard Glee Club is founded at Harvard University.
Poster for a revival of Offenbach's 1858 Orphée Aux Enfers
Published popular music
- January 6 — Ben Davies, operatic tenor (died 1943)
- February 24 — Arnold Dolmetsch, musical instrument maker (died 1940)
- March 30 — DeWolf Hopper, US actor and singer (died 1935)
- April 22 — Ethel Smyth, composer (died 1944)
- May 22 — Charles Kjerulf, composer (died 1919)
- July 16 — Eugène Ysaÿe, composer (died 1931)
- July 21 — Chauncey Olcott, singer and songwriter (died 1932)
- August — Guy d'Hardelot, pianist and composer
- August 1 — Hans Rott, composer (died 1884)
- August 9 — Isidore de Lara, composer (died 1935)
- November 11 — Alessandro Moreschi, castrato singer (died 1922)
- December 22 — Giacomo Puccini, composer (died 1924)
- January 5 — Joseph Radetzky von Radetz, military leader and subject of the Radetzky March by Johann Strauss I (b. 1766)
- January 23 — Luigi Lablache, operatic bass (b. 1794)
- April — Bernard Sarrette, founder of the Paris Conservatoire (b. 1765)
- April 8 — Anton Diabelli, publisher and composer (b. 1781)
- April 16 — Johann Baptist Cramer, pianist and composer (b. 1771)
- June 3 — Julius Reubke, pianist and composer (b. 1834)
- August 24 — Francis Edward Bache, composer (b. 1833)
- September 15 — Thomas Adams, organist and composer (b. 1785)
- October 31 — Karl Thomas Mozart, musician, son of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. 1784)
- November 15 — Johanna Kinkel, composer (b. 1810)
- December 27 — Alexandre Pierre François Boëly, pianist, organist and composer (b. 1785)