Keyboardist Christopher Hogwood established the Academy of Ancient Music in 1973, using as his model an ensemble that had been founded in 1726 to perform music that was at least 150 years old. Thus, Hogwood's orchestra was one of the first in modern times to perform Baroque works on Baroque instruments. Hogwood chose members who were not only masters of their instruments, but also scholars of performance style of the period. The orchestra quickly gained recognition for its authentic performances and recordings, or at least stirred up musicological debate. In 1978, it spawned a Classical period orchestra to perform the works of Mozart and Haydn and their contemporaries. That orchestra has recorded or taken on recording the complete symphonies of Mozart (the first such cycle on period instruments), Haydn, and Beethoven, and the complete piano concertos of Beethoven and Mozart. Recorded for Decca, these were under the direction of Hogwood, who also led recordings of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice, and Handel's Rinaldo, all of which were prize-winners and featured Cecilia Bartoli.
In 1996, Andrew Manze was named associate director, and Paul Goodwin was named associate conductor, allowing the Academy to expand its performance schedule and begin recording for the Harmonia Mundi label. The Academy also began extending invitations to others, such as Stephen Cleobury with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge; Edward Higginbottom with the Choir of New College, Oxford; Stephen Layton with Polyphony; and Masaaki Suzuki with the Japan Bach Collegium to be guest directors, furthering the Academy's vocal and choral repertoire. Instrumentalists Giuliano Carmignola, Richard Egarr, and Pavlo Beznosiuk were also asked to guest direct.
Paul Goodwin began commissioning new works specifically for the distinctive instruments of the Academy, the first being 1997's Eternity's Sunrise for voice and Baroque ensemble by John Tavener. Other commissioned works came from David Bedford; John Woolrich, whose Arcangelo for the group commemorated the 350th birthday of Arcangelo Corelli; and Thea Musgrave.
Andrew Manze stepped down from his post in 2003, as the Academy celebrated its 30th anniversary. The ensemble marked the year by also celebrating the Corelli anniversary and the 60th birthday of John Tavener in special concerts, and by beginning an exploration of the music of Mendelssohn, once again expanding its musicological horizons.