Public domain music

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Music has been created and played by humans for more than 40 millennia. One of the first known instruments was the Divje Babe Flute, but even if humans had musical instruments and made music, there was still a need for a Musical notation system to be able to preserve in a written way a created song, the first such system being Music of Mesopotamia notation system, created 4000 years ago, while 2500 years ago during the government of Zhou Dynasty music and new instruments were created in addition to continuing to use Bianzhong, such as instruments of the time with instructions on pitches, scales and transpositions found in the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, which was the first Musical notation system discovered, which allowed music to be not only heard and interpreted but also written on paper and reinterpreted just by reading written notations, and it is from that date (or even before) until the early twentieth century music is considered public domain.

1500 years ago chine created Qinpu or Guqin notation, it used Tablatures and allowed to play the instrument in a detailed way. Later the gongche notations and jianpu were created. In the X when century Guido of Arezzo introduced Latin musical notations. All this laid the foundation for the preservation of global music belonging to the public domain since the beginning of musical history to the present.

is in the public domain as with any other work in the public domain:

  • all rights have expired or
  • the authors have explicitly put a work into the public domain
  • there never were copyrights

In the United States of America, no sound recording will enter the public domain until 2067, unless explicitly placed into the public domain by its creators or the recording was made by an employee or officer of the United States Government acting under their official duty, such as a recording of The Washington Post march by the United States Marine Corp. band.[1]

Ludwig van Beethoven's symphony no. 8 in f major, op. 93 - i. allegro vivace e con brio
Performed in April 2009 by Johannes Volker Schmidt (5:35)

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La bohème interpreted by Enrico Caruso

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Public domain music[edit]

Since history of music, as probed by music archaeology, has more than 40 thousand years, 99.9 of music of all these ages are on public domain, starting from prehistoric music and followed by ancient music were can be found music of Egypt, music of Mesopotamia, hurrian songs, Music in ancient India, music of ancient Greece, music of ancient Rome. Public domain music can be copied, edited, modified, and sold without any restriction, it makes this music the best resource for musical education.

After ancient music surge a new musical age, Early music were can be found Medieval music (500–1400), Renaissance music (1400–1600), and Baroque music (1600–1760), and, according to some authorities such as Kennedy (who excludes Baroque),[2] Ancient music (before 500 AD). According to the UK's National Centre for Early Music, the term "early music" refers to both a repertory (European music written between 1250 and 1750 embracing Medieval, Renaissance and the Baroque) – and a historically informed approach to the performance of that music.[3] However, today this term has come to include "any music for which a historically appropriate style of performance must be reconstructed on the basis of surviving scores, treatises, instruments and other contemporary evidence."[4]

In 18th century a new musical age surge, it is Classical music in a range of years from 1730 to 1820 with a new generation of musicians that use all the knowledge of music techniques to create a new form of music, among them we can find musicians like Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, among others.

In 1820 a new age of music comes to light, Romantic music, that comes with romantic musicians like finish Jean Sibelius, also Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Fanny Mendelssohn, Amy Beach, Charles Gounod, Bedřich Smetana, Sophia Dussek, Bettina von Arnim, Albert Roussel, Juventino Rosas, Enrique Granados, among others.

In 1875 surge impressionist music movement that use “color”, or in musical term, timbre, which can be achieved through orchestration, harmonic usage, texture, etc.[5] Other elements of music impressionism involve also new chord combinations, ambiguous tonality, extended harmonies, use of modes and exotic scales, parallel motions, extra-musicality, and evocative titles such as Reflets dans l'eau ("Reflections on the water", 1905), Brouillards ("Mists", 1913) etc.[6] Some of the musicians from this movement are Ernest Fanelli, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy,Howard Hanson , Manuel de Falla, John Alden Carpenter.

From 1890 to 1930 a new movement of music is developed, Modern music, some movements on this era are expressionism, hyperrealism, absolute or abstract music and Neoclassicism music, after them new music stiles were developed, Jazz, Bebop and Pop music.

Internet Archive project preserve and make publicly free, to listen and download thousands of music record files on public domain, some of them are recorded by other projects like Musopen, that has been dedicated to record this music whose records are in the public domain using high quality musical instruments and equipment sound capture.

Internet and these new online services free on access allows that not only musical writings were available to the general public but also music itself in an audibly way high quality formats lossless formats like Flac that gives the highest possible quality, and also in a low quality format or with lost as .ogg files (that were very useful during the early years of Internet and the first generations of portable media player). In this way every song that belongs to public domain can be freely downloaded and distributed, an example of this music are files like Symphony No. 8 of Ludwig van Beethoven, Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 by Johann Sebastian Bach, Rhapsodies, Op. 79 (Brahms) by Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 9 by Antonín Dvořák, and Piano Sonata No. 10 (Mozart) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Also every music record on public domain can be loaded to Wikimedia Commons website to make this musical database bigger, some other songs that can be found on public domain like La bohème interpreted by Enrico Caruso, and tango classics like Por una cabeza by Carlos Gardel.


For music the involved rights are:

  • authors (composers, lyricists) - e.g. CISAC members, AR:SADAIC DE:GEMA GB:PRS US:SESAC BMI ASCAP
  • performer
    • mechanical rights e.g. BIEM members (mechanical rights collecting societies) AR:SADAIC DE:GEMA GB:MCPS US:HARRY-FOX
      • BIEM is the international organisation representing mechanical rights societies. Mechanical rights societies exist in most countries. They license the reproduction of songs (including musical, literary and dramatic works). Their members are composers, authors and publishers and their clients are record companies and other users of recorded music. They also license mechanical aspects of the downloading of music via the Internet
    • live performance DE:de:GVL
  • publisher e.g. IFPI members AR:CAPIF, US:RIAA

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Michael Kennedy, "Early Music"", in The Oxford Dictionary of Music, second revised edition, Associate Editor Joyce Bourne. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-19-869162-9.
  3. ^ "About Us". National Centre for Early Music. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Harry Haskell, "Early Music", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001.
  5. ^ Nolan Gasser, "Impressionism". Classical Archives.
  6. ^ J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, eighth edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010). ISBN 9780393932805.

External links[edit]