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Background music

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Background music

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Although background music was by the end of the 20th Century generally identified with Muzak or Elevator music there are several stages in the development of this concept:



In the Baroque and Classical music era music could be performed as a background to other activities, for instance:

  • French kings of the baroque era could have music performed during their stately dinners.
  • Opera or other public music performances could have a thus high "social function" character, that few people still actually listened to the music being performed.

Even through the Romantic music era music could be assigned a place in the background:

  • There's a famous anectdote (maybe not authentic) of Chopin being invited by a rich lady to perform his piano music without visual audience in a room separated from another room only by a curtain. The music was intended to be a background to the lady entertaining her lover in the other room. (Chopin allegedly left when he found out about that)
  • Piano music (for instance produced by a player piano) heard in bars and on social functions could have a similar background music aspect as recorded music has in more recent times on similar occasions.

Furniture music

Furniture music was an invention of Erik Satie around 1920. This type of "background music" fell in oblivition when the composer died a few years later, and was not again executed till it was rediscovered several decades later. Typical for Furniture music are short musical passages, with an indefinite number of repeats


Muzak was a patented type of background music, based on recordings, and involving an electric distribution system, invented in 1922.

Elevator music

Elevator music is a more general term indicating music that is played in rooms where many people come together (that is, with no intention whatsoever to listen to music). There is a specific sound associated with elevator music, usually involving themes from "soft" popular music or "light" classical music being worked over by slow strings. The type of music for instance the Mantovani Orchestra, and conductors like Franck Pourcel and James Last produced, peaking its popularity around the 1970s.

Ambient music

The term Ambient music is generally used when more, but often less distinghuishable, influences (like for instance elements of Jazz and/or sounds from nature, etc...) are mingled in the "soundscape". Note however that some producers and/or composers of "Ambient music" or "soundscapes" (or similar associated types of music) might not have (had) any intention to use the qualifier "background" for their music.

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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