The very meaning of the term ‘classical’ refers to the best part of a millennium of musical creativity in the West. In uncovering the wealth of musical potential during the classical era from the 17th to the 20th century, one can safely say that this is a genre that has been well-explored by some of the greatest music names in history. The following list gives credit to only 10 out of many of the most famous classical composers of all time.
1. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Best Works: Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), Gloria, Argippo and Bajazet
Antonio Vivaldi was a renowned Italian Baroque style composer who lived during the 17th and 18th century. Being one of the most significant composers of European classical music, he has composed over 500 concertos in his lifetime with a specific focus on the violin as his key instrument. Others are operas, sacred corals, chamber music, sonatas and symphonies.
2. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Best Works: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Air on the G String and Arioso
German composer, violinist, violist and organist, Johann Bach is one of the best classical composers of all time whose music lives to this day. He wrote over 1100 known compositions including organ works, works on harpsichord, concertos, cantatas, arias, passions, oratorios, songs and chorales. Bach is often referred to as one of the greatest Western composers of all time.
3. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Best Works: Messiah, Music for the Royal Fireworks, Water Music and Sarabande
Foremost British classical composer and one of the greatest of the Baroque era, George Handel wrote approximately 200 compositions which include oratories, operas, cantatas, organ concertos, arias, ecumenical pieces, chamber music, odes, serenatas, duets and trios. Handel was the King’s court composer where he invented the modern oratorios. His first oratorio was Esther in 1732 – a musical setting of a story from the Bible performed without acting or costumes.
4. Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Best Works: Creation
Often regarded as the Father of Symphony or Father of the String Quartet, Franz Haydn was famous for inventing the string quartet at a time when only three people could attend a recital together. He was also a cellist, violinist and violist who wrote 340 hours of music- more than any other composer, 100 symphonies and 60 string quartets. Franz Haydn always remained true to his style; during his lifetime he was responsible for teaching, directing, performing, and managing musicians in the Esterhazy family.
5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Best Works: Requiem Mass, Don Giovanni and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
One of the finest pianists and equally skilled violinist to ever have lived was Wolfgang Mozart. It is he, Bach and Beethoven that are considered the unrivaled Gods of classical music. Mozart was a musical genius and a perfectionist in the field of classical music. He has uncountable compositions including divertimenti, serenades, horn concerti, string quartets, masses, church sonatas, organ pieces, violin and cello pieces, sonatas for the piano, operas and chamber music. His legendary works cannot be limited but certainly his most popular were his Requiem Mass and his opera Don Giovanni.
6. Ludwig Van Beethoven (1170-1827)
Best Works: 9 Symphonies
By the time Beethoven entered the world of classical music, everything in it was said and done. Hence, Beethoven, being the genius that he was, created and invented his own style of Romantic music thereby taking the entire music world in Europe through a paradigm shift altogether. He wrote many compositions most famous of which are his 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for the piano, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets. His Late Quartets are universally recognized as among the greatest musical works of history. Moreover, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is the most famous melody in history. Beethoven is the most sampled and influential musician of all time in spite of being deaf for the last 25 years of his life.
7. Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Best Works: Ballade No.1 in G minor
Polish composer and pianist, Frederic Chopin was the most natural piano composer to ever have lived. His melodies include etudes, sonatas, impromptus, preludes, mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes and ballades. Although Chopin never quite understood orchestration, his piano works were outstanding particularly, his book on 24 Preludes that helped establish an important part of the keyboard lineage.
8. Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Best Works: Messa di Requiem per Alessandro Manzoni (Dies Irae), Tuba Mirum and Nabucco
Although Verdi had his share of ups and downs, he eventually rose to become Italy’s most loved and greatest opera composer. He was best known for his operas of which he composed 28. He took 19th century Italian classical music by storm with compositions such as Nabucco, Don Carlos, Falstaff, Otello, Aida, La Traviata and Rigoletto. If the world thought that this was all he had to offer, they were wrong; in 1874 Verdi performed Messa di Requiem per Alessandro Manzoni. This was the most manic piece of melody ever to be put on paper. Tuba Mirum was the loudest un-amplified melody ever written.
9. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Best Works: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades
The ultimate Mozart fan and most exceptional melody writer and orchestrator, Pyotr Tchaikovsky was another Russian classical composer who mastered the ballet and concertos. He composed chamber music, concertos, sacred choral music, suites, ballets, overtures, operas and symphonies. His other known works include Nutcracker, Overture 1812, Marche Slave, Symphony No.6, Fantasy Overture (Romeo and Juliet), First Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor and Serenade of Strings.
10. Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Best Works: The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring
One of the best and most influential composers of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky was a Russian born American composer, pianist and conductor. His style was more diverse than others and he wrote more than a 100 compositions.