20 Famous Composers
- George Fredric Handel b.1685, d.1759
- Born the son of a barber, Handel ditched a career in law to pursue his love of music. Skilled at the organ, he wrote several church pieces before being picked up by Prince Ernst of Hanover as a court musician. Later Handel went to London, where his Italian-style operas were all the rage. But soon after, the fires for opera died down and Handel was looking like a has-been. To redeem himself he wrote the religious classic "Messiah" in 1741.
- Antonio Vivaldi b. 1676 d.1741
- Vivaldi's history is not well known. He was ordained as a priest and wrote many, many, many pieces for the Church (about 640 pieces all together). He taught music at several schools at the time. But as his popularity declined, he lost contacts and support, and at the time of his death he was a poor man.
- Johann Sebastian Bach b.1685 d.1750
- Bach came from a long line of musicians, although he was the first to become famous outside of his hometown of Eisenach. An incredibly gifted organist, Bach got a job as a cantor in 1722. He wrote new pieces for the organ for each service, destroying the used ones. Countless Bach compositions have been lost because he saw them as nothing but scrap. His work was very unique, and his use of intertwining melodies and the fugue are trademarks of his genius.
- Joseph Haydn b.1732 d. 1809
- Haydn was the hub of the Classical style. He entered the world of music through his wonderful singing voice as a child. His voice was so good that he was almost castrated to maintain his young voice. But his voice did break and his singing career ended. Haydn moved then into composing music. When Haydn moved to Vienna in 1790 he effectively made Vienna the nexus of the Classical music style. There he taught and mentored young composers such as Mozart and Beethoven.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart b.1756 d. 1791
- Mozart was the prince of Classical music. Movies, plays, musicals, and countless books have been written in honor of him. He was the prodigy to end all prodigies. He wrote his first symphony when he was 5. He toured Europe as a novelty act with his father and sister. But when he grew up that novelty was gone. Luckily his natural skill with music carried him. A student of Haydn, Mozart blossomed into a top notch opera writer, which was his bread and butter for many years. But a man doesn't live by bread and butter alone: his later teaching carrier was not sufficient to support him, and he died a poor man.
- Ludwig Von Beethoven b. 1770 d.1827
- He was another child prodigy, but not nearly as talented as Mozart as a child. At the age of 14 he was appointed as an assistant teacher and the organist at Hanover. He received tutoring from both Haydn and Mozart. When he was 19 he was faced with supporting his entire family after his mother's death. A disturbed, angry person himself, Beethoven's music was fiery, and emotional. He is credited with bridging the gap between Classical and Romantic style music.
- Franz Schubert b. 1797 d.1828
- Born into a family of strong musical leanings, Franz was keen to pick up music as a profession. He was proficient with the keyboard and violin. Primarily a teacher, Schubert was a lifelong resident of Vienna, the hotbed of Classical style music. Schubert's music is especially notable for it's infectious melodies which rival Mozart for their Classical beauty.
- Felix Mendelssohn b.1809 d.1847
- Coming from a rich and musically talented family, Mendelssohn started his music career very early. His pieces were very popular at the time of their writing. His Piano Concerto in G minor was its day's "And My Heart Will Go On;" it is considered the most played concerto ever written. In addition to his popularity during his time, his music for the play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is still played today in weddings after the bride and groom kiss. Finally, Mendelssohn is credited with bringing back Bach. His performances of Bach's pieces restarted interest in the Baroque composer's work.
- Johannes Brahms b. 1833 d. 1897
- Brahms started his career in the oddest of places: bars and brothels. These jobs fueled him with a knowledge of dance tunes and party music. When he outgrew the bar circuits and began serious composing he was heralded as a genius. He was different in that he lived during the Romantic age, but wrote obviously Classical music.
- Carl Maria von Weber b.1786 d. 1826
- Although his works are in many cases operas, von Weber wrote some of the most romantic music ever written. Again, he came from a musical family and started his career at a very early age. His greatest contribution to music was the standard arrangement of an orchestra. His grouping of similar instruments at different locations is a method still used today in our modern orchestras.
- Frederic Chopin b.1810 d.1849
- Chopin was another artist that knew from the get-go that he would be a composer. From the age of 13 Chopin studied music abroad. His greatest talent was with the piano, which he excelled at. His pieces for the piano were groundbreaking, pushing the limits of what a piano was thought to be capable of. He completely changed how the piano was treated in music.
- Franz Lizt b. 1811 d. 1886
- Franz Liszt was undoubtedly one of the most talented pianists the world has ever seen. He had been playing in concerts since the age of nine. When his family moved to Vienna, Liszt had an opportunity to meet Beethoven and Schubert; this undoubtedly altered his style of composing. In his time Liszt was a master showman. His shows were almost always sold out. He was so grandiose with his concerts that he ordered a second piano be on stage in case he were to break the first one while playing.
- Richard Wagner b.1813 d.1883
- Wagner, the man, was not a desirable person. Racist, sexist, and violently anti-Semitic (even though Wagner himself was born into a Jewish family), he was not a very nice guy. But his music was inspired. His opera music is some of the most beautiful ever written.
- Richard Strauss b. 1864 d. 1949
- Richard was born the son of a horn player in Munich. He was trained at the piano and began writing pieces of music called "programs" which were pieces that told stories. His most famous work is probably "Also Sprach Zarathustra" used in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."
- Antonin Dvorak b.1841 d.1904
- Son of a zither-playing butcher, Antonin supported his education in Prague by playing the organ at a mental hospital. He played a violin for the National Theater of Prague from 1862 to 1872, then he left to take more time to compose. Later, he became the head of the National Conservatory in New York. His music is heavily influenced by the folk songs of his Bavarian youth.
- Jan Sibelius b.1865 d. 1957
- Jan was born in Finland during the Russian occupation. He wrote stunning, beautiful music in honor of his homeland. His piece "Finlandia" was the anthem for the Finnish revolution. When the Russians withdrew from Finland in 1918 Jan was made a national hero.
- Mikhail Glinka b.1804 d. 1857
- Glinka, son of an upper-middle class family in Russia earned the title "Father of Russian Music." With little formal training, Glinka wrote many pieces that absolutely drip the essence of folk songs of the Russian peasants. His music served as an example for most every Russian composer that came after him.
- Peter Tchaikovsky b.1840 d. 1893
- Tchaikovsky was born the son of a mining engineer and learned the piano at an early age. But he did not choose music as his vocation. He studied and became a lawyer. But, shortly thereafter, he quit the practice and went to write music. His music was powerful and infused with folk elements much in the same way Glinka's pieces were. A troubled person, Tchaikovsky tried to commit suicide in 1877. It was 11 years later that Tchaikovsky wrote his finest pieces before dying of cholera in 1893.
- Sergei Rachmaninoff b. 1873 d. 1943
- Sergei was the epitome of the Russian patriotic composer. Coming from a well-off family, "Rocky" studied at the St. Petersburg conservatory, and his instructor, Tchaikovsky, gave him the highest grade possible. Sergei battled lifelong depression, made worse by his bouts of writer's block. He alleviated his block with hypnotism and dedicated his 2nd Piano Concerto to his hypnotist. In the movie "Shine" it is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3 that makes David Helfgott wig out.
And One American
- Aaron Copland b.1900 d. 1990
- Born in Brooklyn, to Russian immigrant parents, Aaron brought Russian ultra-patriotism to American music. Infusing western and jazz elements Copland wrote pieces that tell of American folklore. He was immensely popular, even when it was found that he had ties to the Communists. His "Appalachian Spring" won a Pulitzer Prize.