6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Getting into classical music is an ethereal experience that I wish I could relive. I want to hear each tune for the first time and appreciate it in all its musical greatness. However, I can’t turn back the hands of time, but I can use my knowledge to introduce the genre to somebody else. 

An introduction to classical music would be incomplete without a discussion of the most famous classical composers. Here are the 20 best classical composers of all time. 

1. Ludwig Van Beethoven

Popularly known as the greatest composer who ever lived, Beethoven is a classical composer who made his mark during the Romantic era. The Romantic Age took its cue from art and literature and added emotion and passion to music. The composers added passion and romance to the works of composers before them. 

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Early Life

Music was in Beethoven’s blood. His grandfather sang in the choir of the archbishop-elector of Cologne, and his father also sang in the same ensemble. Beethoven was lucky enough to be born into the profession, giving him a leg up compared to other composers of the time. 

Growing up around music gave him an excellent foundation for the amazing compositions to come. Interesting enough, he wasn’t a child prodigy like Mozart. Beethoven’s talent only started showing when he was an adolescent. 

Beethoven was greatly influenced by popular folk music. You can hear the influence of ballet music in his earlier verses and choruses. He also built his collection on the backs of other greats like Wolfgang Mozart. 

There are rumors that he once took a trip to Vienna where Mozart was so impressed that he declared that he would one day make a great name for himself in the music world. 

Claim to Fame

The most remarkable thing about his work was how he managed to make instrumental music as important as vocal music. In those days, instrumentals were more background music to entertain the nobility while they dined and not something worthy of a concert. 

Also, music wasn’t considered a serious art form. It ranked below literature and painting.  However, Beethoven made music exciting enough to catch the nobility’s attention and the masses, as well.

Most Famous Compositions

Beethoven’s 5th symphony is one of the most played pieces in classical music. It’s the mark of any great pianist, and a music novice can recognize it. Any beginner who has never visited the opera or theatre can identify the symphony by listening to the first chords. The first four notes are considered the most impactful and well-recognized classical notes of all time. 

His repertoire also includes the popular Violin Concerto in D, Für Elise, and Hammerklavier. Beethoven produced a lot of brilliant works which have earned him the title as the greatest composer to ever live. 

Fun Fact

He noticed he was going deaf when he was 28 years old. Beethoven produced some of his greatest works when he could barely hear them. Most of the composition was instinctual. 

Here’s a wonderful Spofity Playlist where you’ll find some of the very best Beethoven music.

2. Wolfgang Mozart

Even though he’s ranked second on our list, one can argue that Mozart is as famous as Beethoven. We can all agree that he was just as talented as Beethoven. Whatever Beethoven built, we can agree that you can sense Mozart’s influences in his work. 

Mozart is an acclaimed composer who could play multiple instruments and whose sonatas shaped the future of classical music. 

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Early Life

Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria. He was born when Central Europe was going through a cultural renaissance and finding its identity. Austria was ruled by wealthy nobles who commissioned artists, painters, singers, and composers to entertain them. 

His father (Leopold) had a keen musical interest and decided to introduce his children to music at an early age. Wolfgang started showing talent at three years old when he showed an understanding of chords and tempo. Leopold dedicated a lot of time to tutoring him after noticing how well he excelled at music. 

He encouraged his son to work hard until he perfected the craft. This is a lesson that Mozart carried with him throughout the rest of his career. 

Since he started showing talent and investing in his craft, he was already a budding composer at 13. He was commissioned to write operas in Europe, and by 21, he worked as an assistant concertmaster. Even though he eventually grew dissatisfied with the position, his years there gave him the experience to work with different genres and write violin concertos. 

Claim to Fame

The most remarkable thing about Mozart was his ability to play every genre of his time. Unlike any other composer before him and his peers during his time, Mozart could create a piece for each genre. This made him famous amongst European nobility and the theatres and operas that commissioned his work. He was proof that a jack of all trades could be a master of all. 

We can credit his musical brilliance to how his father encouraged him to play more than one instrument. Mozart’s ability to think out of the box is why he is one of the most famous classical composers. He had a rare combination of talent, skill, hard work, and perseverance. 

Most Famous Compositions

While it’s technically not a composition, The Marriage of Figaro is arguably Mozart’s popular work of art. The controversial opera is written in four acts and tells the story of a tumultuous marriage that is marred by class and wealth issues. The opera was based on a play, and Mozart added a musical element that took it to the next level. 

Mozart’s other works worth noting are Eine kleine Nachtmusik (one of the catchiest classical music tunes) and the Clarinet Concerto (which is the last instrumental that he ever produced). 

Fun Fact

He wrote his first symphony when he was eight years old. He wrote over 600 compositions in his lifetime. 

You’ll find all of the best of Mozart’s music in this Spotify playlist.

3. Johannes Brahms

Like Beethoven, Johannes Brahms is a pianist and composer who made his mark during the Romantic era. Since he worked in the later part of the 19th century, he had the privilege of witnessing the Classical era and he added some of those elements to his compositions. 

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Early Life

He was the second child in a family of 3. Like Mozart, music was introduced to him at an early age. Brahms’ father was a bassist in the Hamburg Philharmonic Society. He started taking his son along and Brahms could play piano by age seven. While we might never know if he was always a young talent, it’s clear that early introduction was essential for all the famous classical composers. 

By the time he was a teenager, Brahms was showing real potential and he started playing in public. He earned his reputation as an accomplished musician by playing in local inns and pubs. He also played for money at docks and brothels. Brahms used his musical talent to ease his family’s financial struggles. 

Claim to Fame

Brahms earned popularity as Robert Schumann’s prodigy. Schumann is another respected composer who pioneered classical music in Germany. Receiving support from such a prominent figure boosted Brahms’ reputation. At some point, Schumann said that Brahms was a genius and young eagle. Schumann’s comments brought attention to Brahms’ talents. 

Once all eyes were on him, Brahms earned his reputation by being a traditionalist and innovator. He respected the work of baroque composers before him, and yet he explored new avenues. Brahms came up during a time where people were more interested in the new sounds of the Romantic era. 

However, he kept the structure from the Classical era and became more exploratory in his harmonic structures. 

Most Famous Compositions

The Hungarian Dances are Brahms’ most famous compositions. The pieces were inspired by folk dances and Hungarian Dance no.5 is a must-know for any beginner pianist. Each piece is between a minute to five minutes long, and they’re related to each other. 

The Hungarian Dances are popular because they are lively in nature, and yet they have a clear structure. They are a full reflection of Brahms’ work as both old and new. Luckily, for any beginner, it’s pretty easy to learn how to play the whole set. 

Some people will argue that Die Mainacht (a song about the moon) and Piano Quartet Op. 26 (a mix between chamber music and a piano concerto) are also worthy of recognition. The songs show off Brahms’ youthful exuberance and his willingness to experiment with different sounds. 

Fun Fact

He was such a perfectionist that we would tear up any completed pieces that he deemed unworthy. He tried to retire from composing but he continued to write more than a hundred symphonies after his retirement. 

Listen to some of the very best of Brahms’ music in this playlist below:

4. Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach preceded the other composers on our famous classical composers list thus far. He worked during the late Baroque period. Bach is the backbone of classical music as we know it. Anyone who knows how to play an instrument most likely knows how to play at least one Bach piece. 

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Early Life

Like the other composers, Bach came from a family of musicians. He could trace the musical influences in his family to several generations behind. His father worked as the town musician and he is the one who taught Bach how to play the violin. Bach’s violin skill sets him apart from other composers because they started with piano. 

Unfortunately, Bach lost both his parents at the age of 10. After being orphaned, he lived with his older brother who encouraged him to keep playing musical instruments. His older brother was a church organist so he furthered Bach’s music lessons. Growing up with strong church influences is evident in Bach’s works as a composer. 

Claim to Fame

Bach grew his reputation as a jack of all trades. He had a wonderful singing voice and could play the organ as well as the violin. As a result, he was a great addition to the church because he could swap roles whenever it was required. Additionally, Bach was a wonderful performer. 

Though he started his career in the church, Bach eventually found himself working for royalty. He joined Duke Wilhelm Ernst’s court as an organist. He produced some of his best works while working for the Duke. He later tried to make a move to Prince Leopold’s court but the Duke did not approve. 

In fact, he was so enraged that he imprisoned Bach for a few weeks, before eventually letting Bach go. Bach produced some of his best work while under the Prince’s employ. 

Most Famous Compositions

The Well-Tempered Clavier is Bach’s most impactful work. He wrote this set with students in mind, and he broke down each movement. He managed to retain a little difficulty so that it could still be exciting to audiences. Due to his hard work, The Well-Tempered Clavier is still taught as a beginner piece to this day. 

Bach also authored one of the most popular hymns in the church. His work on Ave Maria is brilliant. It’s no surprise that Bach made his best work for the Church since he was such a dedicated Christian. Ave Maria is so phenomenal that we still sing it in churches today. No matter how many layers pianists add to it, Bach’s influence remains. 

Fun Fact

Prince Fredrick of Sweden was so impressed by Bach’s playing that he gifted him a diamond ring. 

Here’s some of the very best of Bach’s music - all in one free playlist.

5. Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin is one of the most influential composers in history. His profound impact can be seen in modern-day music pieces. His work is loved by beginners and pros alike. As one of the few Polish composers from the 19th century, it’s no surprise that he is one of the most famous classical composers. 

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Early Life

Unlike other composers, Chopin came in contact with music through employment and not by birthright. He was born in a small Polish village, and his father was a bookkeeper. His father took a job with a wealthy aristocratic family as a way of supporting the family. Living with a wealthy family gave Chopin access to the finer things in life, including the piano. 

Chopin was a child prodigy because his talent started showing while he was quite young. He could play the piano and compose tunes when he was only 6 years old. His father invested in his skills and hired a teacher for him. The music teacher was impressed by both Chopin’s talent and imagination. 

Claim to Fame

Chopin shocked the musical world when he played his first concert at 8 years old. He was so good that he could perform in taverns and saloons. Word spread about him and people would come from afar to witness the young genius’ talents. Apart from being a good player, he also showed great promise as a composer. 

His parents noticed his skills and decided that he needed broader experience. They sent him to Vienna so that he could improve his skill and gain more critical acclaim. His amazing run continued when he arrived in Vienna. The audiences loved his technically-correct and yet expressive works. Once he gained enough fame, he toured Germany, Austria, and France. 

Most Famous Compositions

Chopin was most famous for his work on the nocturnes. He perfected the canatabile writing and playing style. This style is accompanied by beautiful melodic singing that is truly captivating. Chopin also wrote works that were mesmerizing to watch. Watching a pianist play a Chopin piece is one of the best parts of watching an orchestra or watching a solo piece. 

He was also well-known for his Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor. The dark and startling song is interesting because it gets more terrifying with each movement. Even though we’ve heard it repeatedly, it still catches our attention every time a talented pianist plays it. 

Fun Fact

Chopin would always play in the dark. He was so shy that even when he played concerts (he only played 30), he’d ask the hosts to blow out the candles so that he could have privacy. 

Here’s the best of Chopin in one great playlist.

6. Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Tchaikovsky is a Russian composer who produced a wide range of work, and the last of the most famous classical composers on our list. He composed music, wrote plays, operas, and ballets. His artistic talents were so broad that he could write an opera and compose the music. 

6 Most Famous Classical Composers of All Time

Early Life

Like Chopin, Tchaikovsky did not grow up in a musical home. His father worked as a mine inspector and metal works manager. Luckily, he showed an early passion for music and his parents enrolled him in music lessons. He showed so much talent that he played the piano at five years old. 

After his mother passed away when he was 14 years old, Tchaikovsky returned home to fulfil his promise to enter the civil service. He worked as a bureau clerk for almost four years, and he still played music whenever the opportunity arose. If anything, his time away from music made him appreciate the craft even more. 

Claim to Fame

He was more renowned for his operas than his composition skills. His work first appeared on the public circuit in 1865. Johann Strauss Jr. conducted Tchaikovsky’s Dances at a Pasvlosk concert. The following year, Tchaikovsky put out his own work and performed the First Symphony. 

The public’s positive response encouraged him to keep working and he later showed his first Opera, The Voyevoda. Unfortunately, it was badly received. 

Even though his first attempt went badly, he kept trying and released another opera in 1874. Oprichnik performed much better and Tchaikovsky went back to his composition roots. He wrote the Second Symphony and then another opera (which didn’t perform well). 

Tchaikovsky is well-known for his resilience because he often received critical reviews and yet continued to cultivate his craft. In the end, his operas for Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker would immortalize him in the music history books. 

Most Famous Compositions

Even though he is most famous for his ballet, Pathetique is Tchaikovsky’s most famous composition. It has some strong competition because he wrote a lot of symphonies during his time. However, Pathetique wins since it’s perfect for beginners. It makes the Top 50 pieces that every classical music player should know. 

It’s also known as Symphony No.6 in B Minor. It was his final completed composition and you can sense the emotion in his work. The title Pathetique refers to a deep emotional state. The concerto was only performed once before Tchaikovsky’s death. 

By the time it was played for the second time, it was at a memorial for him and it included small adjustments he made after the first performance. 

Fun Fact

He was sensitive and high-strung since he was young, and this made him prone to bouts of depression. 

Here’s some of the very best of Peter Tchaikovsky’s music in one playlist.

Final Word

Knowing the six most famous classical composers is essential for the occasional classical listener and the dedicated, alike. After reading this article, you can discuss their early lives, what they were famous for, and which of their pieces were most successful. 

If you’re a beginner, we hope that this article gives you a great place to start. Knowing one piece from each composer might set you apart from other students. It’s even better if you can play a piece from each individual’s discography. 

Feel free to explore the rest of our site if you’re interested in learning more about classical music!


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