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The Greatest Music Composers of All Time

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Last updated on December 17th, 2021 at 02:24 am

Throughout the history of music, there have been a great number of talented composers. It would be nearly impossible to give someone the title of the best composer of all time. As musical styles have changed, new great composers have emerged. 

A portrait of Mozart painted in January 1770 by Saverio Della Rosa.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Perhaps one of the greatest composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was born in Austria in 1756 and died in 1791. He was an extremely talented composer that composed songs in all of the musical genres of his time and did so masterfully. 

Mozart began playing instruments at four years old and began composing at five. When he was six, his father took him to Munich to play at the Bavarian court. A few months after that, he played in the Imperial court in Vienna and in the houses of nobles.

His family took him on a tour of all the musical centers of Europe including Paris, London, Amsterdam, etc. During this tour, he became acquainted with the music of other great composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach. It was under the influence of Bach’s music that Mozart composed his first three symphonies (K16, K19, and K19a). He is also quite famous for his piano compositions which are published under the names Piano Concerto no. and the number he assigned to them.

Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach

He is considered to be one of the greatest classical composers of all time because of the church and instrumental music masterpieces he composed. He was born in 1685 in Germany and died in 1750. Bach was able to improve on musical traditions before his time to create his masterpieces. 

Bach was raised by his older brother as both of his parents died before he was 10. This didn’t stop him from writing a musical piece about his family’s musical history. He also wrote a famously complicated piece, The Well-Tempered Clavier, which includes preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys–which is quite the accomplishment.

A Watercolor of Frédéric Chopin, by Maria Wodzińska, 1835

Frederic Chopin

Another individual who is considered to be one of the greatest composers in history is Frederic Chopin. Chopin was born in Poland in 1810 and died in France in 1849. He is famous for his talent playing the piano and composing songs. 

Chopin is best known for the solo pieces he composed for the piano. Even though Chopin mainly wrote piano pieces, he is considered to be one of the greatest Polish music composers of all time because of his talent and creativity when it came to composing his pieces that has been unmatched by any other Polish composer.

Photo of Johannes Brahms in 1853. Photo is public domain in the United States.

Johannes Brahms

He was born in Hamburg in 1833 and died in Vienna in 1897. He was a famous composer of the romantic era who wrote more than 200 songs. Brahms is considered to be the master of the symphonic and sonata music style in the second half of the 19th century. 

Brahms began taking piano lessons when he was seven. He was first taught piano by his father and then moved on to learn from F.W. Cossel. In his teenage years, Brahms played at inns, composed, and gave recitals to make money for his family.

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by E. H. Schroeder in 1732.

Joseph Haydn

Born in Austria in 1732 and dying in 1809, He was one of the most influential composers in the development of classical music in the 18th century. Hadyn left his parents before age six to go live with his cousin in a nearby city. 

Under the wing of his cousin, Hadyn sang in the church choir, learned to play multiple instruments, and received a basic understanding of music. When he was just eight years old, the musical director of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna offered Hadyn an opportunity to serve as a chorister at Vienna’s most important church. 

Painting of Ludwig Van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler made in the year 1820.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

One of the most famous classical composers of all time,  Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in 1770 and died in 1827. He was the most famous musical figure in the transitional period between the classical and romantic periods. 

No composer has ever been able to dominate a musical period as well as Beethoven did. Beethoven found his roots in the works of Joseph Hadyn and Mozart and added aspects to represent the growing humanist movement. 

Photo of Giuseppe Verdi sometime in 1870.

Giuseppe Verdi 

Giuseppe Verdi was the leading opera composer in the 19th century. He was born in Italy in 1813 and died in 1901. He is most known for his composing of operas such as: Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), and Requiem Mass (1874). 

Verdi became famous for his skill in creating melodies, and for his rejection of traditional Italian opera. His opera Otello, an opera based on Shakespeare’s play Othello, is widely considered to be one of the greatest operas of all time. 

Gustav Mahler in 1892 by Leonhard Berlin-Bieber (1841–1931).

Gustav Mahler

He was an Austrian composer who became famous for his emotionally orchestrated symphonies. He was born in Austria in 1860 and died in 1911. He began singing and composing on the accordion and the piano when he was just four years old.

He went on to become the musical director of the Vienna Court Opera. He composed ten symphonies that were full of emotion. His songs are characteristic of the romantic period. In his songs, he talks about tough subjects like death and the afterlife.

Photograph of the Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky during his visit to Finland in 1961.

Igor Stravinsky

He was a Russian composer. He was born in 1882 near St. Petersburg and died in 1971 in New York. He received lessons in piano and musical theory but chose to study law and philosophy at St.Petersburg University. 

In 1902 he was taken by Rimsky-Korsakov as his private pupil. Korsakov was impressed by some of the pieces that Stravinsky showed him which made him take Stravinsky as his pupil. 

Some of Stravinsky’s songs were played in Korsakov’s class, and in 1908 two of his songs were played in the Court Orchestra. Stravinsky impressed Serge Diaghilev who commissioned Stravinsky to write some ballet pieces for the Ballet Russes in Paris. 

In 1910 Diaghilev approached Stravinsky to compose a full-length ballet on the Firebird. The premiere of The Firebird at the Paris Opera made Stravinsky one of the most gifted young composers of his generation. He is also well known for his other full-length ballet The Rite of Spring.

Photograph of composer Richard Wagner, Paris, 1861 (this was taken when Wagner was in France for the premiere of Tannhauser.)

Richard Wagner

He was a German composer best known for his works: The Flying Dutchman (1843), Tannhäuser (1845), Lohengrin (1850), Tristan und Isolde (1865), Parsifal (1882), and The Ring of the Nibelung (1869–76). 

He taught himself how to play the piano and how to make his own compositions. He closely studied the quartets and symphonies of Beethoven. His own symphony in C Major was performed in concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts in 1833.

There are no know portraits of Vivaldi, however, this painting created by an unidentified painter is believed to be Vivaldi, painted sometime in 1725.

Antonio Vivaldi 

He was a renowned Italian classical music composer and violinist that made an impact on the form of the concerto and on the style of baroque instrumental music. He was an excellent violinist and in 1703 he was appointed violin master at the Ospedale Della Pietà. 

Some of his early compositions were his trio of sonatas and violin sonatas which appeared in 1705 and 1709. He earned great success with his vocal music and was commissioned by several different institutions to compose music for them.

Portrait of Franz Schubert using 3D Modeling based on an 1846 portrait of the composer.

Franz Schubert

He was an Austrian composer best known for his bridging of classical and romantic music. Some of his most famous works include Symphony No. 9 in C Major (The Great; 1828), Symphony in B Minor (Unfinished; 1822), masses, and piano works.

In 1814, he composed his 30th song Faust. The following year he went on to compose another 140 songs. Between the years 1813 and 1815, Schubert composed five three-string quartets, three full-scale masses, and three symphonies. 

3D Model of Robert Schumann based on an 1850 portrait.

Robert Schumann 

He was a German romantic composer best known for his piano and orchestra music. He began his musical education when he was six by learning how to play the piano. 

When he was seventeen, he was influenced by Austrian composer Franz Schubert and wrote two songs. His piano pieces were either published at once or after very few revisions. Following a heartbreak, Schumann wrote the great Fantasy in C Major for piano. 

A portrait of Claudio Monteverdi, painter and year unknown.

Claudio Monteverdi

He was an Italian composer of the late renaissance period. He is best known for his role in the development of the opera. In 1590, he became a string player for the duke of Mantua. During this time he came in contact with some of the best musicians of his time.

He became the director of music at the Gonzaga court at the age of 35 and published two books. Monteverdi’s use of intense and prolonged dissonance caused some critics to attack Monteverdi.

Claude Debussy in 1908. Photograph is public domain in the United States.

Claude Debussy 

He was born in 1862 in France. He is best known for his impact on 20th-century music. His most famous works are Clair de Lune (1890–1905), and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894). Many call him an impressionist composer, although the term impressionist is usually used to classify art of the same time period, he himself did not agree to the term. Debussy died in 1908.

Photo of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Born in 1840, he is considered to be the best Russian composer of all time. He composed 11 operas, 3 ballets, 3 piano concertos, a violin concerto, 20 choral works, and 100 songs and piano works. He had a great appeal to the public because his music was always colorful and openhearted. 

Of course, his most famous work of all time is still performed to this day, typically around the holiday season as it is the famous ballet The Nutcracker.

Photo of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Photo is public domain in the United States.

Sergey Rachmaninoff

He was born in 1873 and died in 1943, he is widely considered to be the last great composer of Russian Romanticism. He is best known for his piano concerti and his piece, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934).

Richard Strauss in 1894. Photograph is public domain in the United States.

Richard Strauss

He was a famous romantic composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in Germany in 1864. The symphonic poems he composed in the late 19th century are still relevant to this day. His compositions are an iconic part of standard repertoires.

Photo of Antonin Dvorak, creator unknown, sometime in 1879 or 1880.

Antonín Dvořák

He was a Bohemian-born composer who was born in 1841, the same year as another composer Hungarian Bela Bartok was born. He was the first Bohemian composer to be known worldwide. He is best known for his achievement in turning folk music into 19th-century romantic music before his death in 1904.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s portrait, in the audience at the Bach Celebration of July 28, 1950. Photo by Roger & Renate Rössing.

Dmitri Shostakovich

He was born in 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is known for his composition of 15 symphonies, chamber works, and concerti. Most of his compositions were written under pressure from the government under Soviet rule. He lived to send the end of the cold war, ultimately dying in Russia in 1975.

English Composer Edward Elgar. Photo date unknown estimated to be 1905.

Edward Elgar

Born in England in 1857, He was an English romantic composer. He is known for his role in starting the English renaissance. He composed several large choral works and is most famous for his composition of the oratorio Lux Christi (1896).

Portrait of Felix Mendelssohn in 1846.

Felix Mendelssohn

He was born in 1809 and died in 1847 in Germany. He was a composer, pianist, and musical conductor. He is one of the most famous characters of the early romantic period. His music was influenced by the techniques used by classical composers while adding aspects of the romantic era. His most famous works are Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), Italian Symphony (1833), a violin concerto (1844).

Photo of Franz Liszt in 1886.

Franz Liszt

He was born in Hungary in 1811 and died in 1886. He was a Hungarian piano virtuoso and composer. He is known for his composing of 12 symphonic poems, two piano concerti, multiple choral works, and many solo piano pieces.

Anonymous portrait of Handel likely done by Balthasar Denner between 1726 and 1728.

George Frideric Handel

Born in 1685 and dying in 1759, he was a German-born English composer of the Baroque era. He is best known for his composition of operas, oratorios, and instrumental compositions. His most famous work is Messiah (1741) and is considered to be the most famous of all oratorios. 

Photo of Jean Sibelius in 1913.

Jean Sibelius

He was a Finnish composer born in 1865. He is the most famous symphonic Scandinavian composer. He is best known for his composition of symphonic poems. Some of his major works are Pohjola’s Daughter (1906) and Luonnotar (1913).

He was born at a time when Finland was ruled by Russia, and many credit the country Finland became as a result of the music of Sibelius. Although he developed a hand tremor in his later years and was unable to continue composing, he lived a long and happy life to the age of 91 years old.

Photo of Sergey Prokofyev in 1945. Photo is public domain in the United States.

Sergey Prokofiev

He was born in Ukraine in 1891. He was a 20th-century Russian composer. He is known for his compositions in multiple musical genres. His most famous works include different symphonies, concerti, operas, and ballets.

Although his work was heavily stifled under soviet rule, he was able to escape and live in San Francisco for a time. He ultimately returned to Russia, where he later died in 1953 on the same day as Joseph Stalin, making it impossible to attend his funeral.


Written by Hope Davis

Long-time music lover Hope became a full-time writer in 2020 after being laid off from her regular job due to COVID-19. She now spends her time traveling the world to see her favorite bands while writing about them!


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