An easy way to get lovers of classical music to break out into fisticuffs is to ask them to name the five greatest classical composers of all time. While every music lover has her favorites, there are some names that consistently float to the top, such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Others who frequently are cited include Chopin, Vivaldi, Handel, Debussy and Stravinsky.
Organist and Composer
Born in 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach tops many lists of most famous composers. A composer and organist, he wrote more than 1,100 compositions, including concertos, cantatas, arias, chorales, oratorios and works for the organ and harpsichord. Some of his most famous works include the Brandenburg Concertos and Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. His work is baroque in style, using a lot of notes, simple rhythms and deeply exploring harmony. Musicologists and other composers have characterized his composing style as "absolute music," meaning any instrument can play it.
Rock Me, Amadeus
Born in 1756, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy who began performing when he was 6 years old. By the end of his life at age 35, he had composed more than 600 works, including operas, concertos, symphonies and sonatas -- all of which had a profound effect on classical music. His works demanded high technical mastery on the part of performers, and he conceived and perfected many of the grand forms that marked the classical period. His operas are noted for their psychological insights.
One of the more famous and influential composers, Ludwig von Beethoven was born in Germany in 1770. His music marked the transition between classical and romantic. He wrote nine symphonies, five concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas and 16 string quartets along with chamber music, choral works and songs. He studied with Hayden and performed as a pianist. In 1800, he started to go deaf and eventually gave up performing and conducting, but continued to compose, creating some of his greatest work after losing nearly all of his hearing.
A man who received no fame and little recognition during his 31 years of life, Austrian composer Franz Schubert composed more than 600 secular works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music, and chamber and piano music. The largest body of his work was composed for voice and piano. His music contains melodic and pleasing tunes that exhibit technical finesse and show experimentation and unusual choices of instrumentation. He was most influential in his compositions of the Lied, making use of the lyrics of famous poets and adding dramatic content and harmony.
Master of the Ballet
Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is best known for his ballets "Swan Lake," "The Nutcracker" and "The Sleeping Beauty." He also composed symphonies, concertos, operas and chamber music. Other famous works are the 1812 Overture, "Romeo and Juliet" and "Marche Slave." He had a wide range of style, making heavy use of classical forms and incorporating folk song. Much of his work was marked with intense emotional depth and expression. Tchaikovsky traveled the world during his 53 years of life and enjoyed great international popularity.
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