On hearing the words “popular music revolution”, thoughts are likely to turn to the 1950s when rock 'n' roll overturned established ideas about the character and style of popular music. However, the nineteenth century witnessed the first cultural upheaval of this kind, as popular styles began to assert their independence and distinct values. No longer was the popular style something offering a more easily digested blend of techniques found in high-status music; it had its own characteristic forms and devices. London, New York, Paris, and Vienna were cities in which the challenge to the classical tradition was strongest, and in which original and influential forms of popular music arose. This revolution was driven by social changes and the incorporation of music into a system of capitalist enterprise: it resulted in a polarization between the style of musical entertainment and that of “serious” art. The paper briefly examines the key genres and styles that precipitated musical change at that time.