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10 must know Classical Composers

Updated on May 14, 2016
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann | Source

What is so called 'Classical Music'.

This is a vernacular. Actually, with the exception of Beethoven, the father of the Romantic Period, none of the composers I'm about to discuss in this article are actually 'Classical Composers'. They're all Romantic Composers, --- even Mahler, who has wrongfully been called Modern at times. That said, many will argue that Mahler was late Romantic early Modern. This article will be both objective/subjective - objective, because I'll write general information about these composers - subjective, because they're personal favorite composers of mine, that some may not care much for. There is so much misinfomration concerning so called 'classical music', that is it any wonder some people abstain from it due to fear of ridicule. Some people may picture an opera house where the audience are all erudite and have complete knowledge of the History of Western Art and Music, etc. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is people who attend classical concerts nowadays are both knowledgeable about classical music, not so knowledgeable, - some may not even have a clue about this music, but merely enjoy hearing it performed. Furthermore, I'll mention compositions to listen to, but no youtube links. You'll need to search on your own. Most of the works I'll be mentioning are famous, so there should be no problem finding recordings of them - live performances or otherwise.

No. 1. Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the greatest composers in the history of Western Music, period (The greatest in my personal opinion). His cantankerous ways were one of the main reasons the 'Classical Period' - a period of rigid, discipline, form and structured came to a hault. Beethoven was a free spirit who did not adhere to discipline and constraint. That said, his symphonies are arguable the greatest contribution to Western Music. However, they all show a great deal of form and structure, just not text book like the works of some of his predecessors.

Must listen to: Symphonies, Piano Sonatas, Piano Concertos, Violin Concerto, Fur Elise

No. 2. Brahms

I mentioned objective/subjective concepts earlier in this article. Well, Johannes Brahms belongs to objective. His works represent the culmination of German Music. Again, some have called Brahms a brute with no musical imagination. That said, he represents form and structure like few before him or since. Brahms was a Romantic Composer, but he adhered to Baroque and Classical principles - his music is a fusion of different musical periods.

Must listen to: Symphonies, Piano Concertos, Violin Concerto, Double Concerto, Hungarian Dances.

No. 3. Chopin

Frederic Chopin was above all a musical poet. He doesn't adhere to form or structure like Brahms did. However, his greatness lies in imagination and poetic refinement. Chopin wrote mostly for the piano. In fact, many will say that Chopin's piano music is the greatest written for the instrument, period. One of the things that makes him great is his unconventional use of harmony and chords. In his Nocturnes, Chopin anticipated some of Wagner's radical techniques. He's one of my personal favorite of all times.

Must listen to: Piano Sonatas, Piano Concertos, Nocturnes, Etudes, Preludes.

No. 4. Mahler

Gustav Mahler is considered to be the bridge between Romantic and Modernism in music. Mahler's style is at times radical enough to be called modern, but his emotions are for the most part rooted in the Romantic Period. He wrote gargantuan Symphonies - some lasting more than 1 1/2 hours long and breaking the record for longest symphonies ever written. Mahler also uses mammoths size orchestras making it difficult in having his works performed. He is subjective, but his musical structure is objective for the most part - you get the best of all worlds with his music.

Must Listen to: Symphonies, Songs.

No. 5. Dvorak

Antonin Dvorak was so phenomenally gifted that he's one of the few composers that can be both perky, emotional, yet objective enough to listen to without crying. He is a personal favorite of mine. He wrote a great deal of music. - And, he's quite easy at first hearing, unlike some of the previously aforementioned.

Must listen to: Symphonies, Concertos, Slavonic Dances

No. 6. Tchaikovsky

Peter Tchaikovsky is probably the most famous Classical Composer of all times. Again, he was a Romantic Composer who lived towards the end of the Romantic Period. Tchaikovsky's music is passionate - overly passionate most will agree!... But he manages to be popular with most of the so called 'Classical Music' audience.

Must listen to: Symphonies, Concertos, Romeo and Juliet Overture, 1812 Overture, None but the Lonely Heart

No. 7. Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn's music is similar to Brahms in that he fuses styles from different periods making him unique. His music is rarely if ever booring, yet entertaining at the same time.

Must listen to: Symphonies, Concertos, Piano Solo music, Song without Words

No. 8. Berlioz

Hector Berlioz was one of France's greatest composers of the 19th Century. He's considered by many authorities to be the father of program music. He influenced Liszt and Wagner, and many others after him. His music is not as popular as other composers; however, you'll enjoy his music after a few hearings.

Must listen to: Symphonie Fantastique, Harold in Italy, Romeo and Juliette

No. 9. Weber

Carl Maria von Weber is a name you rarely hear mentioned today. His music has somewhat been forgotten. However, he is one of my favorite composers of all times. He's been labeled by some scholars, "The first Romantic Composer in history." As you may have already guessed. He was contemporary of Beethoven.

Must listen to: Konzertstuck for Piano and Orchestra, Der Frieschutz, Oberon, Invitation to the Dance

No. 10. Schumann

Robert Schumann (photo's sake) is one of the greatest German composers of all times. He started out as a writer, but then decided on a musical career. He wrote a great deal of piano music and is considered to be as great a composer for the piano as Chopin and Beethoven were. He also wrote orchestral music as well.

Must listen to: Symphonies, Piano music


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    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 9 months ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Klieber also has some pretty good Weber recordings. And as you mentioned, he also does a good job on Brahms. I do like Bach and Schubert, but not quite as much as the guys I mention in my article. My high school piano teacher would always say, "There would come a time when you'll appreciate Schubert." I'm proud to say that the time has come. I do like Schubert and have come to appreciate his music. Take care and thanks for commenting

    • Frances Metcalfe profile image

      Frances Metcalfe 9 months ago from The Limousin, France

      Thanks for article John! Of course Beethoven is a highlight. However my motto is can't live without Bach but would die without Schubert. Conversely my desert island disc to save from the waves is Brahms 4th symphony. Carlos Klieber, Vienna Phil. Has everything.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 18 months ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Yes, he's one of my personal favorites.

      Take care. Always good hearing from you.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 18 months ago from California

      Dvorak is so under-appreciated really--great list John!!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 18 months ago from Los Angeles, CA


      I felt the same. I wrote it too fast. I should have written in more detail. I should have included youtube samples as well. Your point is well taken.

      Thank you!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 18 months ago from Fresno CA

      Very nice overview. I would have loved a little more info on each but what you gave us was intriguing. I wonder if there are YouTube samples you could insert of some of their music so the uninformed could take a listen real quick. Just a thought.



    • profile image

      .... 18 months ago

      No Mozart?

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 18 months ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi there,

      Beethoven is Zeus of the musical world. I think Brahms and Chopin are next. Just thought I'd write a hub about some of my favs.

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm so happy you enjoyed my short hub. It's my pleasure. Take care.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 18 months ago from Nashville Tn.

      Brilliant! Oh, how I have enjoyed this. Beethoven, his life and his piano sonatas (32) have been my passion for as long as I can remember. I wrote a hub about this remarkable musical genius last year. He is, without question, my favorite composer. I felt like I was in heaven when I sat in orchestra seating and 'lived' through his inspiring 9th symphony.

      Chopin's nocturnes and etudes are brilliant and Schumann - wow! Words can't express the incomparable piano works of this tortured soul.

      Thank you John for bringing such an informative and necessary hub to the forefront. I'll pass this on everywhere including pinterest and to my friends and music students.