Top 10 Greatest Classical Composers

Throughout history, there have been many composers who have created masterpieces that have influenced generations of musicians and listeners. Some of these composers are widely regarded as the most talented and most respected in history, based on their musical innovation, skill, and legacy.
The Top Ten
1 Ludwig van Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis, and one opera, Fidelio... read more

I also think Beethoven is the greatest composer in human history. He was not as productive as Mozart and arguably not a great opera composer. However, he revolutionized music with the way he used dynamics and developed motifs and themes. He also increased the length and scope of the symphony and the sonata. Moreover, he was a pioneer in the use of music to portray human feelings and emotions.

His motifs and themes and their development are rightfully famous for their originality and beauty. Think of the violin concerto. That has got to be the most beautiful violin concerto ever. Think of the 4th piano concerto. I find it even more incredible than his more famous 5th. The originality and beauty of all its movements is simply astonishing.

And then, his symphonies. They are all interesting and part of the modern repertoire. But just the 5th and the 9th would make anyone a celebrity. And then, the sonatas. Think of the 32 incredible piano sonatas. Nobody after Beethoven, including all the great Romantics, came close to realizing such a musical monument. And I could go on...

2 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era, born in Salzburg.

I suppose it would be difficult to argue for who the "best" classical composer of all time is, whatever that may mean. But, it would be difficult to argue that Mozart is not the most intelligent of the classical composers. He composed his first piece at age 4, and his first symphony at age 7 (a very impressive symphony, I might add, go listen to it for yourself!). He composed over 600 pieces during his lifetime and only lived to be less than half the age of most composers on this list! The quality of his music is also, in my opinion, of the highest quality. For starters, I recommend listening to Symphony 25, 39, but honestly, I can't think of a single Mozart piece that isn't high above average quality.

Masterpieces in all genres, instruments in about every combination reasonably sensible (some no longer exist). All created in lightning-fast time.

Sure, Haydn invented the "sonata form" and string quartet and wrote 104 good symphonies. Beethoven's symphonies were so good his successors were intimidated. Someone else commented, "What if he had lived into his late 50s like Beethoven (or 70s like Haydn)? He would have undoubtedly blown everyone out." Personally, all of the composers wrote many wonderful compositions and some one-hit wonders we all still treasure. If Mussorgsky hadn't become an alcoholic in the military in his teens and died of it young, he could have given the great Tchaikovsky a run for his money. Thanks to those that made this list and opened it up for comment!

3 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.

Chopin may be my favorite composer, but I cannot in good conscience vote him over Bach.

So much has already been said: "The father of modern music", "The eternal God of harmony"... Without using such poetic language, I will just say: Bach knew what he was doing.

The furious, fast, technically complex parts intertwined with mellow, quiet parts... his amazing choral harmonization... It's all there, just like Brahms said.

Some people criticize composers who produce a large number of compositions, and I can understand why. It can get repetitive, just like any other music. However, for all the stunning amount of different compositions Bach has written, it's amazing how much variety there is between them. Bach was also competent at composing music for instruments besides the piano/organ... something that can't be said about many of the supposed "best composers" on this site...

In the end, personal taste and how the music affects you, and only you, will always differ. Because of this, opinions will always differ, and that's fine. I don't mean that Chopin or Beethoven are unqualified composers when I vote for Bach as the best. I do it for his harmonization skills, influence, and sheer technical skill, which I believe is unmatched to this day.

4 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

For the sheer beauty and power of his music, he stands out to me as the best. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, wonderful as they are, do not measure up to him. Whether it was his concertos or ballets, Tchaikovsky could bring about the whole spectrum of emotion and thought through his compositions. Exploding with the brass, or weaving ever so gently as upon a cool, calm lake, with a simple harp, flute, or violin, his music still takes us on extraordinary journeys. Of particular note, for me, are Swan Lake and his concerto for violin and orchestra, particularly the first movement of the latter and the finale of the former.

His versatility was astonishing. Apart from his many famous works, there are numerous lesser-known masterpieces such as a Liturgy, that reflects a deeply spiritual side (check out Hymn of The Cherubim). Also, his extraordinarily original orchestration, such as in the 3rd orchestral suite, where in the middle of the scherzo movement, he treats the heavy brass with the delicacy of pizzicato strings (accompanied by side drum). Incidentally, a full six years before Richard Strauss in Don Quixote (1898), he used flutter-tonguing in Nutcracker (1892). Just a few examples of his originality. But Tchaikovsky did for ballet what Beethoven did for symphony.

5 Frederic Chopin Frédéric François Chopin (1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849), born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for the solo piano. He gained and has maintained renown worldwide as a leading musician of his era, whose "poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation."

Chopin is easily the best composer ever and deserves a higher spot on this list. My favorite pieces of his are his etudes, which display his talent and prodigy-level mastery of the piano.

Fryderyk Chopin was definitely the best composer of the Romantic Period. He wrote many famous melodies. A lot of his pieces are technically so difficult and varied. I think it's hard to make an "of all time" list. So, we must create three lists: Greatest Baroque Composers (for me, the greatest master of this period was Johann Sebastian Bach), Greatest Classical Composers (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), and Greatest Romantic Composers (Fryderyk Chopin). Of course, but where's Beethoven? He was a great composer but only "great" and too overrated for me. Finally, I type three great masters: Bach, Mozart, and Chopin.

This man should be first on this list. If you have ever played his music, you wouldn't believe that making music like his was possible. Listen to his Ballade No. 2 in F major (the fast part) and his Etude in C minor, and you will understand what I am talking about. He was also really good at coming up with melodies, and rarely repeated them more than twice in his whole piece, whereas I see composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Pachelbel repeating their melodies well over twice. If I were allowed to go back in time and bring only one composer to the modern day and give him medications to allow him to live longer, I would bring Chopin.

6 Antonio Vivaldi

I like all of his works. They are majestic, incredible, and unbelievable. When I listen to his Four Seasons, especially the Winter part, I feel like I'm walking in a Baroque palace. He had such simply perfect music that I listen to even when I work on my homework. He is the best!

Vivaldi's music is sweet and beautiful. His works also contain beautiful violin timbre and are very colorful. I can always listen to them. I think it is difficult to compare among composers.

Some great composers express deep emotions, but it is too heavy for me to fully listen to them. It is more suitable for instruction, but not for entertaining the mind.

I really think that some of his works, and namely the 'Four Seasons', are the best ever written until now by all musicians in the world. The 'Four Seasons', in particular, are simply perfect. Other words are superfluous.

7 Franz Schubert Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer. Schubert died before his 32nd birthday, but was extremely prolific during his lifetime. His output consists of over six hundred secular vocal works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music. Appreciation of his music while he was alive was limited... read more

No one can match Schubert: 31 years on Earth. He trumped Mozart with his re-write of Mozart's Symphony 40. Inside of the look back that is Beethoven's 9, he has Symphony 4, which is Beethoven's 10. He predated Mahler by 80 years, yet, his Symphony 8 & 9 prefigure Mahler. 600 songs. Along with Haydn, the master of chamber music.

A complete master of harmony, rhythm, song, and both asymmetry and symmetry. He was the first composer to invent a whole harmonic texture since Bach, and his dark yet childish soul should earn him a spot in the top five at least.

Schubert was born in 1797 in Vienna, Austria. He is known for his piano pieces and his symphonies. He died at the young age of 32 from syphilis and typhoid fever. My favorite piece of his is Ave Maria.

8 Joseph Haydn

One of the most underrated of the great composers, Haydn should be in the top 3. He is the father of the symphony, string quartet, and piano trio, and one of the most important figures in the development of the sonata form. He is also one of the most original (he was not a copycat like Mozart) and creative composers, creating exquisite works from very simple motives. Haydn's work has had an enormous influence on great composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.

Among the huge amount of music he created (from nothing since he didn't know Bach), almost every piece, from the early symphonies to the London ones, from the wonderful piano sonatas to the breathtaking quartets, from his trios to his oratorios, almost everything he has left us is an endless source of joy and amazement. He is the greatest ignored composer, as Sir Simon Rattle surnamed him. To listen to again and again...

9 George Frederick Handel

Handel is on the same level as Beethoven and Bach. Unfortunately, he, of all the major composers, is known by the least number of works. If one takes the time to discover other oratorios and operas other than the handful known, a revelation will be at hand. I think Chopin being in the top list is stupid. He only wrote successfully for the piano and he was basically a miniaturist. Vivaldi being in the top ten is ridiculous. His choral works and operas pale when compared to Handel. For me and most of the professionals I know, the top three, not in order, are Handel, Bach, and Beethoven. I would never choose between them.

His music is enjoyable. You don't have to be a musician to enjoy many others, including Bach. I, as a musician, like Bach and his fugues as I understand them, but most listeners don't. Handel wrote pleasing music. Many say fugues are more complex than grounds, arias, etc., so Bach is considered better. However, Handel could write that as well. In fact, Handel has written double fugues, which take a lot of skill to do well. He beats Purcell due to his skill as an organist. I don't like Mozart, as I find it irritating.

10 Felix Mendelssohn

Very underrated. Amazing compositions, yet most people say they get 'bored after two minutes'. These people need an attention span better than that of a fly.

Mendelssohn is one of the most underrated composers when it comes time to make these lists, which is a shame.

His Violin Concerto in E Minor alone makes him one of the very best -- the piece is musical perfection, if such ever existed.

He needs to be on this list! He was a great composer and performer in his own right. I was shocked when he was not mentioned in this list. He deserves to be in here!

The Contenders
11 Johannes Brahms Johannes Brahms was a German composer, pianist and conductor of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, he spent much of his professional life in Vienna.

For me, Brahms's music is the most comforting, warm but unsentimental of all. It has such a rich, full-bodied sound with beautiful melodies, great variation, and satisfying rhythms. His music combines power and gentleness and makes me feel that mankind's propensity for much that is bad and destructive has another uplifting and glorious side in art such as his.

If my enjoyment of classical music is to be the basis of my vote, then Brahms would be at or among the top three on the list. His chamber music and that of Schubert are my favorites, and I love Ein Deutsches Requiem and his vocal music. While the symphonies are all top caliber, #4 is hauntingly beautiful for me.

So complex in pattern, yet so wonderful in harmony and texture. Each of his 4 symphonies is distinct in style and mood, and his two piano concertos are as monumental as symphonies. The chamber music, especially containing piano and clarinet, broke new grounds.

12 Franz Liszt Franz Liszt was a prolific 19th-century Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, music teacher, arranger, organist, philanthropist, author, nationalist and a Franciscan tertiary.

It's a toss up between Chopin and Liszt. Liszt's Transcendental Etudes are far harder than Chopin's, and his infamous La Campanella is one of the hardest works of all time. His virtuosity and flair, his talent, his difficulty, all make him one of the best.

A complete musician in every respect. Composer, conductor, pianist, teacher. A true genius with a mission who brought forth original ideas for the 20th Century to follow. His music, although problematic in many cases, was truly original and far-reaching, including his religious music with outstanding form.

Liszt was one of the greatest composers of all time. Friend of Chopin and student of Beethoven's pupil, Czerny, Franz Liszt popularized Hungarian music through his impressive musical works. He also served as a great teacher to dozens of talented musicians of the next generation.

13 John Williams John Williams is an American film composer. He often collaborated with Steven Spielberg on his films.

Williams is incredibly popular with his film scores. However, how many of the great classical composers in the past wouldn't have given their souls to do film if they had lived in our modern times? One of Williams' influences, which is evident in his more subtle scores, is the American great, Aaron Copland, who did touch on film scores. A lot of musicians in today's modern orchestras owe part of their career to Williams for keeping them employed. God bless John Williams!

John Williams isn't the greatest composer of all time, but he is a real chameleon and therefore for sure a top tenner! He used Holst in Star Wars, made Olympic hymns based on the greatest classic artists, and with sometimes simple tunes, he makes total soundtracks of movies. Somehow, he manages to make the music he writes his own recognizable style while keeping the old ways alive. Surely the best alive.

14 Maurice Ravel Joseph Maurice Ravel was a French composer, pianist and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. In the 1920s and 1930s Ravel was internationally regarded as France's greatest living composer.

Maurice Ravel does not only deserve to be on the list, he is the greatest composer ever, TOP 1! I have never seen anybody with such technical perfection. Just listen to his piano works, perfect, perfect, perfect!

Though clearly influenced by other contemporaries, he has managed to create a unique voice of exquisite impressionism and colour. His diverse repertoire shows a mastery of all the instruments of the orchestra, and his sense of balance is truly remarkable. Give his string quartet a listen. Definitely one of the best.

I think Ravel's music is very unique. His Gaspard de la Nuit shows the dark and ethereal harmonic features of his music. It is really unique music, honestly.

15 Modest Mussorgsky

If I had to choose only one classical piece of music that I could listen to throughout my life, I'd choose Pictures at an Exhibition. These rough, unconventional harmonies, this devotion, dedication, and passion strike me each time I listen to them. Of course, Ravel orchestrated it in an exceptional manner as well.

I love his music! Mostly Night on Bald Mountain.

Powerful and rich.

16 Claude Debussy Claude Debussy was a French composer. He is sometimes seen as the first Impressionist composer, although he vigorously rejected the term. He was among the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bruh, Claude needs to be higher on this list. Clair de Lune! Come on! If the composer of Clair de Lune can't get into the top five, I don't know who can.

A very underrated composer. I chose Debussy due to the following:

- I respect Mozart. However, I have not played any of his grand pieces.
- Beethoven's music is alright. However, behind the music, he was an extremely odd man. One of the main respectful things is his ability to make music while completely deaf. However, let's remember he wrote sonatas for random women decades younger than him.
- Bach's music is more mathematical than musical. He works on the same formula, and all of his music sounds the same, especially his Prelude and Fugues, just with a different base note.
- What made me love Debussy was Arabesque number 1, one of my favorite pieces to hear and play.

The music of Claude Debussy is truly incredible and far superior to that of any other composer. Every piece of his provokes real feeling and emotion, which is a quality I have yet to find in any other composer. Debussy was an absolute genius. (I honestly do not understand why Beethoven is ranked first on this list. His music is a slipshod pile of careless ideas and concepts rather than anything real.)

17 Danny Elfman

An amazingly talented composer whose endearing, often invigorating, and sometimes even very moving compositions stay with you long after the movie has ended. You find yourself singing his pieces sometime later from just hearing them once. His works are in modern-day animated classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, as well as countless other live-action movies and animated features.

Tim Burton's go-to guy for film composing.

You wouldn't love that Tim Burton movie as much without this guy.

18 Johann Pachelbel

It's a shame everybody only knows one piece by him. But I think that one will be known and played as long as there are humans.

Pachelbel was born in 1653 in Nuremberg, Germany. He is known for writing his major piece, Canon in D Major, and his organ fugues. He died at the age of 52 from unknown causes. My favorite piece of his is Canon in D Major.

19 Hans Zimmer Hans Florian Zimmer is a German film score composer and record producer. Since the 1980s, he has composed music for over 150 films.

"Journey to the Line." Enough said.

Greatest music composer ever!

Watch "No Time for Caution."

20 Scott Bradley

Not only a composer but also a master arranger. The fact he turned Manhattan Serenade into a thrilling finale involving Jerry Mouse being chased out of New York shows his brilliance in the Tom and Jerry short Mouse in Manhattan.

Not the first composer many think of in this genre, but his music for the old school Tom and Jerry cartoons is sure as hell distinctive.

21 Gustav Mahler

Mahler is, basically, the bridge between all of the prior arcs of the Western art music tradition and the modern age. His fusion of symphonic form with the deeper layers of human experience was one of the strongest arrows pointing toward 'next' in his day. I definitely think it'll still be another hundred years or so before the impact of his works is really understood, but at least he has a lot of momentum from those who 'get it' in the present day.

Mahler's music has, unwittingly, affected the whole of music generated throughout the 20th and 21st century and will continue to have an everlasting impact. His music is full of yearning in the Faustian quest to understand the meaning of life and death. It expresses angst, menace, love, beauty, sardonic wit, meditation, etc. Every possible emotion and emotive state - I could go on! Underpinned by the best possible orchestration, his influence on film composers is immense, e.g., Korngold, Steiner, Hermann, Shostakovich - even John Barry! He was the forefather of atonal music and music with 'attitude'. It became acceptable for a composer (of any musical genre) to express angst, menace, hopelessness, and reveal their innermost darkest feelings (besides positive emotions) publicly for the first time in history. This 'rebelliousness' and individuality in music has permeated popular music since. The man was a genius.

22 Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky succeeded in making a name for himself by defying the conventions of many of the composers before him. Granted, he lived in an era different from that of Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven, where secular music as a whole was frowned upon. However, riots broke out when the said composer debuted Rite of Spring. That's saying something.

In a more subjective lens, I can say that I appreciate Stravinsky's conventions much more. I like the idea of dangerous orchestral music. When you listen to the likes of Tchaikovsky, it's more pleasant and safe-sounding. Stravinsky still proves that he can have those moments though, but with much more passion, power, and elegance. The Finale of the Firebird Suite exemplifies this.

I can hear Stravinsky's influence in modern music. Aaron Copland cites him as his primary inspiration, for one. But I hear a similar intensity in more modern music as well. Stravinsky has seeped his way into the atmospheric wind sections in Sufjan Stevens' songs, as well as into the chaotic atonal nature of progressive metal bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan.

23 Sergei Prokofiev

Marvelous composer! Listen to the fifth symphony, only the second movement. That describes his style.

Prodigal Son, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, etc. His ballet scores never fail to impress us. He's a true genius.

The score of Romeo and Juliet will make you cry.

24 Ennio Morricone Ennio Morricone (10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020) was an Italian composer, orchestrator, conductor, and trumpeter who wrote music in a wide range of styles. With more than 400 scores for cinema and television, as well as more than 100 classical works, Morricone is widely considered one of the most prolific and greatest film composers of all time. His filmography includes more than 70 award-winning... read more
25 Giuseppe Verdi

A true heir to Mozart's genius when it comes to opera. He probably reached the highest combination of classical elegance and deep emotional bursts. The greatest dramatic composer, he just has to be on the top ten list.

Verdi is arguably the best opera composer. His Requiem is beautiful. He should be placed much higher.

The best opera composer the world has produced has to be in the top ten!

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