Es spielte Musik.

English Translation

There was music.

Why Passiv instead of Indikativ here? “Es gab Musik” sounds better to my English-speaking brain.

No, if you want to say that there was music e.g. in background from an unknown source, then “es spielte Musik” is the way to phrase it.

“Es gab Musik” is unusual. It is only used when the music is part of a “menu”, e.g.

Jeder Absolvent bekam sein Diplom, Reden wurden gehalten und es gab Musik von Bach und Ed Sheeran.

Every graduate received his diploma, speeches were made and there was music by Bach and Ed Sheeran.


I agree, Es gab Musik sounds like the music was part of a program or offering.
Maybe a better translation would be Music was playing.

This is the same pattern as Es regnete or Es schien die Sonne or Es rauschte das Meer, or, taken from a piece of folk music: Es klappert die Mühle am rauschenden Bach.

So, it is not a passive. In the sentence in question the music is the active subject.