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How wine indirectly fuelled the growth of Classical music

In ancient times, grapes were pressed by feet for the purpose of making wine. In some small rural towns, this practice is still in existence today. But the screw press, a device that applied pressure on a flat surface, sped up the process - wine grapes could be pressed much more quickly and effectively, and the liquid extracted more thoroughly in a shorter amount of time.

The use of the screw press was extended to other agricultural products like olive oil fruit, or to other industries like textiles; in the latter case it was used as a cloth press for printing patterns.

In a wine-making region of Germany, around the 1400s, a young man named Johannes observed these presses and wondered if they could be extended to other areas. He ventured into the printing of text and sought to improve on the existing machines. And while he was not the first to use the screw press for printing text, he did come up with improvements for the process of doing so. Among his innovations were a movable under-table which allowed sheets below the press to be quickly changed, the use of a more durable oil-based ink instead of water-based ones, and a method itself for mass-producing the movable type blocks more quickly. Johannes Gutenberg's press revolutionised the printing world. But he didn't just stop there.

It did not take long for him to realise that the printing press could be extended to music. The complexities involved had put off other printers before him - the lines of the stave had to be carefully placed on the paper, then the notes placed on top with no margin for error, and checked countless times. A dot out of place, and the printed product was useless. It also involved training apprentices to use the expensive technology. But it did revolutionise the Classical music world. Scores no longer had to be laboriously copied by hand. Musical symbols were now standardised through common use. Musicians were able to access printed music, and composers could disseminate their compositions, making a living from their work without sole reliance on royal influences and patronage. Above all, this meant there was a sudden abundance in the number of Classical works available for composers to study, analyse and learn from.

Technology has always influenced the styles of music right throughout its history. Chordal romantic music was made possible by improvements in the piano. The future of rock music was changed by the invention and assimilation of the electric guitar. And as Gutenberg technology improved, and cleaner and clearer ways of printing developed, more instrument parts could be printed on one page, and this encouraged composers to write works of larger scale involving more instruments. If you compare a musical score by Bach, and one from the earlier Renaissance, you can see the vast difference in scale. The Gutenberg press, adapted from its forefathers, the wine presses of the medieval era, allowed the spread of printed music across Europe fairly quickly and indirectly inspired works that were larger in scale. Cheers!

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