A-Z of Classical Music Composers

From the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the lesser known George Enescu, this blog takes you through 26 of the most important classical music composers in history.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He is known for instrumental compositions such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations as well as for vocal music such as the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor. Bach was born in Eisenach, in the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, into a musical family.


Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, singer, and organist of the Baroque period. He enriched established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach’s compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Mass in B minor, two Passions, and over three hundred cantatas of which around two hundred survive. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth.

Bach was born in Eisenach on 21 March 1685 into a family of distinguished musicians. He was taught to play the violin and harpsichord by his father Johann Ambrosius Bach. In 1700 he enrolled as a student at St Michael’s School in Lüneburg. He Was a chorister at the New Church in Arnstadt from 1703 to 1707. In 1703 he became court musician in Weimar. In 1708 he was appointed concertmaster at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar; he also played viola da gamba in the duke’s orchestra and had several other duties including teaching lute to Christian August Duke of Sachsen-Weissenfels and French to Princess Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

Major works

Major works by Johann Sebastian Bach include:

-Toccata and Fugue in D minor,BWV 565
-The Well-Tempered Clavier,BWV 846–893
-Mass in B minor,BWV 232
-St Matthew Passion,BWV 244
-Cantata BWV 147 “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist, who is arguably the most famous classical music composer of all time. He was born in 1770 in the city of Bonn, and he started playing the piano at a very young age. Beethoven composed some of the most well-known and loved works of classical music, such as the 9th Symphony and Moonlight Sonata.


Ludwig van Beethoven was born in the German city of Bonn in 1770, to a family of modest means. His father, Johann, was an acclaimed singer in the court chapel of the Archbishopric of Cologne, and he hoped his son would follow in his footsteps.

Johann’s training methods were often harsh; he would beat young Ludwig if he made a mistake. This only made the boy more determined to succeed, and by the age of 10 he was already an accomplished pianist and violinist.

Ludwig’s father died in 1792, leaving him to care for his younger siblings. His already difficult life became even more challenging, but he continued to compose and perform.

In 1795, Beethoven began to lose his hearing. This did not stop him from creating some of his most beloved works; he continued to compose music until his dying days. He passed away in 1827, at the age of 56.

Major works

Ludhoven was a prolific composer, and his works span across many genres. He composed nine symphonies, which are some of the most well-known pieces in all of classical music. He also wrote five piano concerti, thirty-two piano sonatas, sixteen string quartets, six-string sonatas, seven piano trios, five violin sonatas, ten violin concerti (including the ever-popular Violin Concerto in D major), and various other works for solo piano, chamber ensembles, and orchestra.

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a German composer who wrote some of the most popular pieces of classical music. He is best known for his operas, oratorios, and concerti grossi.


George Frideric Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Germany, to Georg and Dorothea Handel. His father, aged sixty at the time of George’s birth, was an eminent barber-surgeon who oversaw the health of the future king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm I. Georg senior had hoped that his son would follow him into the medical profession, but young George had other ideas.

From an early age he showed a keen interest in music, and when he was seven his father reluctantly agreed to his lessons with local composer Zachow. Two years later, on Zachow’s death, Georg Handel was sent to Hamburg to continue his studies with composer Johann Mattheson. It was here that he made his first public appearance as a musician, playing the violin in Mattheson’s opera ‘Cleopatra’.

In 1703 Georg Handel traveled to Italy, where he spent eighteen months working under Corelli in Rome and then under Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples. It was during this time that he began to use the Italian version of his name – ‘Georgio Frederico Hendel’. Upon his return to Hamburg in 1705 he took up a post as Kapellmeister (or court musician) to Prince Georg Ludwig of Hanover (the future King George I of England), before embarking on a journey through Europe which took him to London, Dresden and finally back to Hamburg.

In 1710 Georg Friedrich Händel finally settled in London, where he would live for the next three decades. The following year he became a naturalized British subject and changed his name once again – this time adopting the English spelling ‘George Frideric Handel’. He quickly established himself as one of the leading composers of Italian opera in London, and went on to enjoy great success with works such as ‘Rinaldo’, ‘Giulio Cesare’ and ‘Serse’.

In 1737Handel suffered a prolonged period of ill health, culminating in a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. After this he largely gave up composing operas and instead turned his attention to sacred vocal music. Amongst his most famous works in this genre are the oratorios ‘Messiah’ (1741) and ‘Israel in Egypt’ (1739). He also wrote numerous smaller scale pieces such as cantatas and anthems.

George Frideric Handel died on April 14th 1759 at his house in Brook Street, London. He was buried with full honors in Westminster Abbey six days later – one of only a handful of musicians ever to receive such an honor at that time.

Major works

George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Germany. He received his early musical training from his father, a successful barber-surgeon, before moving to Berlin to study under the renowned composer, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach.

Handel’s first big break came in 1710 when he was commissioned to write an opera for the King’s Theatre in London. The work, ‘Rinaldo’, was an instant success and firmly established him as a major composer in the city.

During the next few years Handel wrote a series of hugely successful operas for the London stage, including ‘Giulio Cesare’, ‘Tamerlano’ and ‘Rodelinda’. In 1741 he also composed his oratorio ‘Messiah’, which has become one of the most popular pieces of choral music ever written.

Despite his huge success in London, Handel eventually returned to his native Germany, where he died in 1759.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, including some of the most famous and well-loved pieces of classical music. Mozart’s work includes symphonies, concertos, operas, masses, chamber music, and solo piano pieces. He is considered to be one of the greatest composers in history.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on 27 January 1756 to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart in Salzburg, Austria. The elder Mozart was a successful composer and teacher of violin, as was his sister Nannerl. As a child, Wolfgang played the keyboard and composed pieces which were published under the name of his sister.

Wolfgang and Nannerl toured Europe together giving public concerts from the age of six and eight respectively. In 1769 they performed in Munich, Vienna, Pressburg (now Bratislava) and other cities in Germany and Austria. A second concert tour took them to Paris and Holland in 1772-3.

In 1777, Wolfgang left Salzburg to seek employment elsewhere. He unsuccessfully tried to find positions in Mannheim and Paris, before finally being appointed Court Composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1779. However, Wolfgang was unhappy working for him and three years later he set off for Vienna again with the intention of making a career there as a composer and performer.

In Vienna he found fame as a concert pianist but little success as a composer until the production of his opera Marriage of Figaro in 1786. This was followed by further operatic successes with Don Giovanni (1787) and Cosi fan tutte (1790). His greatest work, however, is generally considered to be The Magic Flute (1791), an opera which is still popular today.

Sadly, Wolfgang did not live to see the success of The Magic Flute; he died on 5 December 1791 at the age of just 35, leaving behind a wife Constanze and two young sons.

Major works

Mozart’s considerable operatic oeuvre comprises 22 completed works and several unfinished ones. Like many composers of his time, Mozart frequently reused themes and ideas from one work in another.

Major works include the operas The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Così fan tutte (1790), The Clemency of Titus (1791), and The Magic Flute (1791), as well as the Jupiter Symphony (1788).

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert was an Austrian composer. He wrote some of the most beautiful and well-loved classical music pieces, including “Ave Maria” and “Serenade”. He was a very talented composer and his music is still enjoyed by many people today.


Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 (Trout Quintet), the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (Unfinished Symphony), the three last piano sonatas (D. 958–960), the opera Fierrabras (D. 796), the incidental music to the play Rosamunde (D. 797) and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795) and Winterreise (D. 911).

Born in Himmelpfortgrund, Franz Schubert’s uncommon gifts for music were evident from an early age. In 1808, at age eleven, he was accepted as a chorister at the Imperial Court Chapel after his voice demonstrated its exceptional beauty during an audition with Antonio Salieri, then Vienna’s leading musician. This was also the year in which Schubert first came into contact with Ludwig van Beethoven—an encounter that would have a decisive influence on his development as a composer—when he sang in a performance of Beethoven’s Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II with his father and brothers at one of Vienna’s main churches, the Minoritenkirche am Graben.

As a boy singing at court Schubert had access to some of the best musicians in Vienna; he quickly picked up both keyboard skills and compositional techniques from these encounters. He also became friends with Ignaz von Mosel—a 16-year-old student two years his senior with whom he shared much in common: both loved literature and were attracted to men rather than women. From 1814 Schubert began attending school again; he studied at various institutions including Hoffmeister’s Conservatory and Sechter’s Music School before finally enrolling at Vienna University in October 1815 to study philosophy under Gottfried von Uchtrup with Johann Baptist Jenger as his musical mentor—although neither man seems to have made much of an impression on him musically speaking!

In May 1816 Schubert failed his final exams at university; however this setback did not prevent him from continuing to study composition under Salieri or attending weekly musical soirées held by Stefan Zweig—an important figure in Austrian cultural life who later became one of Freud’s patients! These events exposed him to even more great musicians such as Carl Maria von Weber and Gaspare Spontini as well as giving him opportunities to perform works by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven on violin or piano in front of knowledgeable audiences.

The year 1818 marked something of a turning point for Schubert: he composed what is arguably his first masterpiece—the Symphony No 1 in D Major—as well as over 100 other works including songs settings of poems by Goethe, Mayrhofer and Matthisson; four-hand piano pieces; string quartets; solo piano pieces; church music; secular vocal works such asDer Hirt auf dem Felsen for voice, clarinet & piano

and Das Lied im Grünen for voice & piano; overtures; and various small ensembles including his Octet in F Major for strings & winds which was first performed at one of Zweig’s soirees on 24 November 1824 with Anton Diabelli taking part on viola alongside members of Prince Lichnowsky’s string quartet! This highly successful evening led to several more performances of the work over subsequent years including one given by Joseph Joachim & company at King Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s palace in Potsdam on 30 January 1850 which featured Liszt himself on piano!

Major works

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, known as the “Unfinished Symphony” (German: Unvollendete), was composed by Schubert in 1822. It is one of only two completed symphonies by the composer. The symphony, which is about 25 minutes long, is scored for flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and strings.

In 1839 the music critic Eduard Hanslick praised the Unfinished Symphony as “one of the most important and one of the most beautiful works of our instrumental repertoire”.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany, on May 22, 1813. Wagner’s operas, particularly The Ring of the Nibelung, had a profound influence on the development of music in the late 19th century. In addition to his operas, Wagner also wrote a number of other works, including essays, symphonies, and concert overtures.


Richard Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, in Leipzig, Germany. He was one of nine children born to Carl Wagner and Johanna Rosine Wagner. His father died when he was six years old, and his mother remarried in 1824. As a result of his stepfather’s disapproving attitude towards music, Wagner eventually ran away from home when he was just 17 years old.

Wagner began his musical training by working as a choirboy and then as a musician in the court orchestra of Prince Maximilian II of Zweibrücken. He later enrolled at the University of Leipzig to study philosophy and art history; however, he quickly became more interested in music composition, and he began to study with Christian Gottlieb Müller.

After graduation, Wagner found employment as a conductor in Würzburg and Dresden. It was during this time that he met Wilhelmine “Minna” Planer, who would become his first wife. The couple married in August 1836 and had five children together; however, the marriage was an unhappy one, and Minna frequently had affairs. The couple eventually divorced in 1862.

In 1842, Wagner completed his opera “Rienzi,” which proved to be quite popular with audiences. However, his next opera, “The Flying Dutchman,” was not well-received, and it caused him to lose his job as director of the Dresden Opera House. As a result, Wagner was forced to flee Dresden for Switzerland to avoid arrest for unpaid debts.

While living in exile in Zurich, Wagner composed some of his most famous works, including “The Ring Cycle” and “Tristan und Isolde.” He also met Cosima von Bülow, the daughter of Franz Liszt ( another famous composer), who would later become his second wife. In 1860, Wagner returned to Germany after being pardoned for his debts; however, he was soon forced into exile again after participating in the failed uprising known as the Dresden Revolution of 1848-1849.

Wagner finally settled permanently in Bayreuth in 1872 after King Ludwig II of Bavaria agreed to finance the construction of a theatre specifically for the performance of Wagner’s operas (the Bayreuth Festspielhaus). Ludwig also paid off all of Wagner’s outstanding debts – an act which further increased the composer’s popularity with the German public.

Wagner continued to compose music until his death on February 13, 1883; however, many of his later works were left unfinished at the time of his death.

Major works

-The Flying Dutchman (1843)
-Tannhäuser (1845)
-Lohengrin (1850)
-Tristan und Isolde ( 1865)
-Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868)
-Der Ring des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung (1869– 1876)

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