Music journalism has its roots in classical music criticism, which has traditionally comprised the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of music that has been composed and notated in a score and the evaluation of the performance of classical songs and pieces, such as symphonies and concertos .
Before about the 1840s, reporting on music was either done by musical journals, such as Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (later the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik), founded by Robert Schumann, and in London journals such as The Musical Times (founded in 1844 as The Musical Times and Singing-class Circular); or else by reporters at general newspapers where music did not form part of the central objectives of the publication. An influential English 19th-century music critic, for example, was James William Davison of The Times. The composer Hector Berlioz also wrote reviews and criticisms for the Paris press of the 1830s and 1840s.
Modern art music journalism is often informed by music theory consideration of the many diverse elements of a musical piece or performance, including (as regards a musical composition) its form and style, and for performance, standards of technique and expression. These standards were expressed, for example, in journals such as Neue Zeitschrift für Musik founded by Robert Schumann, and are continued today in the columns of serious newspapers and journals such as The Musical Times.
Several factors—including growth of education, the influence of the Romantic movement generally and in music, popularization (including the 'star-status' of many performers such as Liszt and Paganini), among others—led to an increasing interest in music among non-specialist journals, and an increase in the number of critics by profession of varying degrees of competence and integrity. The 1840s could be considered a turning point, in that music critics after the 1840s generally were not also practicing musicians. However, counterexamples include Alfred Brendel, Charles Rosen, Paul Hindemith, and Ernst Krenek; all of whom were modern practitioners of the classical music tradition who also write (or wrote) on music.
In the early 1980s, a decline in the quantity of classical criticism began occurring "when classical-music criticism visibly started to disappear" from the media. At that time, magazines such as Time and Vanity Fair employed classical music critics, but by the early 1990s, classical critics were dropped in many magazines, in part due to "a decline of interest in classical music, especially among younger people".