Pop Music Composers to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


This blog will introduce you to some of the most popular and well-known composers of pop music. You will learn about their music, their lives, and what made them so successful.


Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. The terms “popular music” and “pop music” are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. “Pop” and “rock” were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

Generally, pop music is made up of catchy tunes and hooks that are easy to remember and sing along to. It is usually produced for mass consumption and is often associated with commercialism. Pop music composers create songs within this genre by drawing on a variety of influences, including:

-Rock: Pop music has its roots in rock ‘n’ roll, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s. Rock artists such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly were some of the first pop stars.
-R&B: Rhythm and blues (R&B) was another major influence on early pop music. R&B artists like Ray Charles,Aretha Franklin,and Stevie Wonder helped to shape the sound of pop in the 1960s and 1970s.
-Jazz: Jazz was another major influence on pop music, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. Artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett,and Ella Fitzgerald were some of the most popular singers of their time.
-Classical: Classical music has also had an impact on pop composers over the years. Many pop songs have been inspired by or based on classical pieces, such as The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” which was based on a string quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn.


One of the most prolific and well-known composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756. Classically trained, Mozart composed over 600 works including symphonies, concertos, operas, chamber music and more. His best-known works include the operas “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni,” as well as the symphonies “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and “Symphony No. 40.” A child prodigy, Mozart was composing works for orchestra by the age of five and rose to prominence in European musical circles by his early teens. He traveled extensively throughout his career, spending time in Vienna, Germany and Italy before returning to his hometown of Salzburg towards the end of his life. Mozart died in 1791 at the age of 35. Though he did not achieve widespread fame during his lifetime, his music has been celebrated for centuries and continues to be performed regularly all over the world.


Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist, who is arguably the defining figure in the history of Western music. He was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany, to an alcoholic father and a mother who died young. Despite his father’s abuse, Beethoven rose to become an acclaimed virtuoso pianist and one of the leading composers of his time. He composed some of the most well-known works in classical music, including symphonies, concertos, string quartets, and piano sonatas. Many of his pieces are considered staples of the concert repertoire today. Beethoven also struggled with deafness for most of his adult life; despite this, he continued to compose until his dying days. He passed away in 1827 at the age of 56.


Chopin is considered one of the great composers of the Romantic era. His music is known for its beautiful melodies and he wrote many famous waltzes and nocturnes. He also pioneered the idea of the instrumental concerto, where a soloist plays with an orchestra.


Franz Schubert is one of the most celebrated composers of the Romantic era. He was born in Austria in 1797 and began writing music at a young age. Many of his early works were for voice and piano, and he quickly gained a reputation as a talented composer of lieder (German art songs). Schubert went on to write operas, symphonies, and other instrumental works, cementing his place as one of the most important composers of his time. Today, his music is still widely performed and loved by classical music fans around the world.


Franz Liszt was a Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, music teacher and organist of the Romantic era. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest pianists of all time. Liszt was also a philanthropist and contributed to the production of many notable works of music. He was born in Raiding, Hungary in 1811 and died in Bayreuth, Germany in 1886.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the late-Romantic period, some of whose works are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, which he bolstered with appearances as conductor later in his career. While none of his operas reached a similar level of popularity, his ballet The Nutcracker is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and remains one of his most popular works, along with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.

Tchaikovsky’s compositions have enjoyed broad and enduring international popularity and he is one of the most popular composers of all time. Among his best-known works are the orchestral suites The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, the ballets Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66, Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture; symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6; concertos for violin No 1 in D major Op 35/TH 59 & piano No 1 in B flat minor Op 23/TH 34; 10 overtures including Francesca da Rimini Op 16/TH 38 & Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture Op 64/TH 42; tone poems including Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasia after Dante – Op 32/TH 41A & Manfred Symphony – Op 58/TH 76; 1812 – Overture solennelle – ensemble version: TH 13A & 34a; 12 vocal pieces including Liturgy of St John Chrysostom – 10 pieces for voices & orchestra in 4 parts after Alexander Pushkin’s poetry Op 41 & Six Romances on Texts by Alexander Pushkin – pieces for voice & piano TH 54 (Op 62 No 6 is known as None but the lonely heart); 26 piano pieces including 12 Morceaux caractéristiques TH 116 (Op 72); chamber music including Serenade for Strings in C major – string orchestra: TH 48 (Op 48) & Souvenir d’un lieu cher – Violin Sonata No 2: memory of impressions from Childhood: TH 134 (Op 42).


Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist of the Romantic period. Brahms’ works are notable for their intellectual depth, their wealth of invention, and their skip between optimism and yearning. Although many of his works have been overshadowed by the likes of Beethoven and Mozart, Brahms is now widely considered to be one of the greatest classical composers of all time.

Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, into a family of musicians. His father was a violinist in the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and his mother was a singer. As a child, Brahms showed great promise as a pianist, but he was also deeply affected by the music of Schumann and Beethoven. He began his compositional career while still in his teens, writing songs and piano pieces.

Brahms’ first major work, “Piano Sonata No. 1 in C minor”, was published in 1853 when he was just 20 years old. It received mixed reviews, with some critics calling it “immature” and others praising its “raw emotion”. Nevertheless, the work laid the foundations for Brahms’ future success as a composer.

In 1862, Brahms’ “Violin Concerto in D Major” was met with great acclaim from both audiences and critics alike. The work cemented Brahms’ reputation as a master composer, and it remains one of his most popular pieces today.

Brahms continued to produce groundbreaking works throughout his lifetime, including his “Requiem” (1868), “Ein deutsches Requiem” (1871), and the “Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major” (1881). He also wrote several chamber works and orchestral pieces, such as his famous “Symphony No. 1 in C minor” (1876).

Brahms died in 1897 at the age of 63. His funeral was held at the Trinity Church in Hamburg, where he had been baptized 84 years earlier. His grave is located at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.


Antonin Dvorak was a Czech composer whose work bridged the gap between classical and romantic music. He is best known for his Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” which draws on elements of African-American and Native American music. Other popular works include his Slavonic Dances and his cello concerto.


Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer, he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945, his work was rediscovered by a new generation of listeners; Mahler’s influence is now considered to be all-pervasive, and extends to musicians and composers as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Sir Simon Rattle.

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