Just for Context


The first ship of enslaved Africans reaches the American mainland in Virginia; Claudio Monteverdi publishes his Seventh Book of Madrigals in Venice.

Massachusetts becomes the first colony to formally legalize slavery; Italian composer Francesco Cavalli composes his early-baroque opera, Didone.

Poor black and white Virginians fight together in Bacon’s Rebellion against governor William Berkeley; Heinrich Biber starts publishing his music.

Virginia becomes the first state to outlaw marriage between free blacks and whites; Henry Purcell writes the music for his dramatic opera, King Arthur.

The Continental Congress declares the 13 American colonies independent of British rule; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart premiers his Haffner Serenade for a friend’s wedding.

With the Fugitive Slave Act, Congress guarantees slaveholders the right to recover escaped slaves; Niccolò Paganini, age 11, debuts as a violin virtuoso.

The Battle of Fort Sumter begins the American Civil War; Antonín Dvořák spends the summer composing his String Quintet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 1.

The 13th Amendment abolishes slavery in the United States; Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde premiers at the Nationaltheater in Munich.

In “Plessy v. Ferguson, the supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of racial segregation; Johannes Brahms composes Vier ernste Gesänge in Vienna.

A group including W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, and Mary White Ovington, found the NAACP; Sergei Rachmaninoff premiers his own Piano Concerto No. 3 in New York City.

Jackie Robinson plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, integrating the league; Samuel Barber composes Knoxville: Summer of 1915, an idyllic depiction of the south.

Rosa parks refuses to give up her seat on a public bus, and Emmett Till, age 14, is brutally murdered; The Boston Symphony premiers Darius Milhaud’s Symphony No. 6 at Symphony Hall.

The Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; Terry Riley composes the famous minimalist piece, In C.

Malcom X is assassinated at a rally at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City; Maria Callas gives her last operatic performance, appearing in Tosca at Covent Garden.

Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee; Luciano Berio composes Sinfonia, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic.

Rodney King is violently beaten by four Los Angeles Police officers; Joan Tower composes Concerto for Orchestra, premiered by the St. Louis Symphony.

Barack Obama is elected the 44th president of the United States; Eliot Carter writes Tinntinabulation, for percussion sextet.

Michael Brown is shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri; conductor Zubin Mehta receives a lifetime achievement award at the Istanbul Music Festival.