25 of the Most Celebrated Composers in History

Posted by , Updated on November 27, 2023

Have you ever wondered who the most celebrated composers in history are? If it weren’t for music, we would undoubtedly have a very dull existence. The way it affects emotion, moods, and conveys ideas makes it a powerful and intimate medium. We identify with the music. It helps us see things from a different angle. Through it, we naturally feel a connection with the composers who wrote it. Although we all have our personal tastes, there are some pieces and genres that transcend the rest. These are the musicians and composers behind those pieces. These are 25 of the most celebrated composers in history.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Beethoven went deaf at the turn of the century. Apparently, he could not always hear what he played. After 1819 CE, all conversations with him had to be written down.


Antonio Vivaldi


Like Mozart, Vivaldi died in poverty, in an unmarked grave. Both composers were similar in how they achieved greatness in their composition and popularity, yet failed to secure financial greatness.


Aaron Copland

aaron copland

Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, he was widely known as “the dean of American composers.”


Franz Joseph Haydn

joseph haydn Source: https://www.biography.com/people/franz-joseph-haydn-9332156

This Austrian composer played a large hand in crafting classical music during his time. He composed 106 symphonies and cast a long shadow for other composers to live under. One of his most famous pupils was, in fact, Beethoven.


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

TchaikovskySource: https://www.notablebiographies.com/St-Tr/Tchaikovsky-Peter-Ilyich.html

A Russian composer from St. Petersburg, Tchaikovsky produced some very memorable pieces, including Swan Lake and Piano Concerto No. 1. Interesting fact: he hated writing The Nutcracker, undoubtedly his most famous work.


Carl Nielsen

carl nielsen

Undoubtedly Denmark’s most famous composer, but not internationally well-known, he grew up poor in a large family in the 19th century and developed a talent for music at a young age. In his compositions, he went against his roots and added foreign, romantic flavors to his music.


Gustav Mahler

gustav mahlerSource: https://www.britannica.com/

An Austrian composter, sometimes called “The Symphonist of Death,” he only wrote ten complete symphonies, all centered on death and the afterlife. His works were by and large ignored for 50 years after his death but eventually became appreciated for influencing 20th century classical music. 


Johannes Brahms

BrahmsSource: https://www.notablebiographies.com/

A German composer born in the early 19th century, he became one of the finest musical craftsmen of all time. He wrote four symphonies which are among the most recorded repertoire ever.


Franz Liszt

franz lisztSource: https://www.biography.com

A great Hungarian pianist, renowned during the Romantic period, he was wholly original and a true master. He sightread “Grieg’s Piano Concerto,” playing it perfectly the first time. He’d written 700 compositions by the time he died. 


Modest Mussorgsky

MussogorskySource: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org

A Russian composer that often defied Western musical convention, he innovated Russian music in his lifetime. He was known for his smash hit, “Night on Bald Mountain,” which is the third most recorded orchestral piece in history.


Frédéric Chopin


As a pianist, Chopin ranked among the greatest artists of his epoch, such as Kalkbrenner, Liszt, Thalberg and Herz. In contrast, he disliked public performances. It was rare if he appeared. 


Leonard Bernstein

Leonard_BernsteinSource: https://leonardbernstein.com/about

A modern American 20th century composer, he studied at the Tanglewood school in 1940 and eventually traveled the world as a conductor. His ever popular “West Side Story” composition combined Jazz, Classical, Puerto Rican and Romantic elements, making him an innovator for his time. 


Franz Schubert

Franz_SchubertSource: https://www.biography.com/people/franz-schubert-9475558

This Austrian composer is considered both the last of the classical and the first Romantic composers. He also garnered praise for being the greatest songwriter of all time, notable for the melody and harmony in his music. 


Dmitri Shostakovich

ShostakovichSource: https://www.google.com/search?q=Dmitri+Shostakovich&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS715US715&oq=Dmitri+Shostakovich&aqs=chrome..69i57.120j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

A brilliantly original Soviet composer, he eventually fell into trouble with the communist government for his opera, “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.” He was declared an enemy of the people. They said the composition was “coarse, primitive and vulgar” and banned it for almost 30 years.


Richard Wagner

richard wagnerSource: https://www.notablebiographies.com/Tu-We/Wagner-Richard.html

A 19th century composer in Germany, Wagner composed many pieces for the opera. His first official success was “Tannhäuser,” and despite his supposedly less than amiable personality he managed to write the single most famous masterpiece in opera history: “The Ring Cycle.”


Gyorgy Ligeti

György_LigetiSource: https://www.notablebiographies.com/newsmakers2/2007-Li-Pr/Ligeti-Gyorgy.html

A Hungarian-born composer who lost his father and brother in the Holocaust, he worked as a slave laborer before escaping a tyrannical Communist regime. He stands out from the rest of the post-war European avant-garde and wrote “Requiem,” a masterpiece later used in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”


Johann Sebastian Bach

György_LigetiSource: https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/24f1766e-9635-4d58-a4d4-9413f9f98a4c

A German composer of the 19th century, he perfected every style of music which existed in his day. He’s primarily known for the “Brandenburg Concertos” and the “Goldberg Variations,” plus “St Matthew Passion” and the “Mass in B minor.” There are few composers who match his skill and genius. 


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

mozartSource: http://mentalfloss.com/article/547532/facts-about-wolfgang-amadeus-mozart

Born in Austria on January 27, 1756, Mozart was a musical wunderkind, capable of learning any song in 30 minutes. He wrote his first opera at 11. As you can imagine, he saw massive success as a composer and crafted every style and type of music in his time. Even after several centuries, his music is still widely praised and celebrated.


John Williams

john williams

A composer who needs little introduction today. He’s crafted many notable and recognizable pieces in modern history. Williams places above Mozart simply because he is more recent – relatable to modern times – and he wrote the single highest grossing film score for the movie “Star Wars.” 


Alexander Scriabin

Skrjabin_AlexanderSource: https://www.scriabinsociety.com/biography.html

On Christmas Day in 1872, this Russian composer was born with synesthesia, an extremely rare mental condition where a color is associated with music. He produced five symphonies and during his career, his style rapidly changed and evolved. 


Stephen Schwartz

Stephen_SchwartzSource: https://www.allmusic.com/artist/stephen-schwartz-mn0000750146

This modern composer found success on Broadway and Hollywood. He studied at Juilliard and earned his degree in drama at Carnegie Mellon University. His musical “Wicked” grossed $56 million its first year and he collaborated on several Disney musicals.


Igor Stravinsky

igor stravinsky

If you have an hour to spare, listen to “The Rite of Spring,” then you’ll understand. At its premier in 1913, people were so upset by its dissonant harmonies, obtuse rhythms, and the fact that the story is of a young girl dancing herself to death, that the most infamous riot in France’s history was started.


Bela Bartok

bela bartokSource: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0325.html?module=inline

A Hungarian wunderkind, he learned the piano at 10 and performed in his first public appearance as a young composer-pianist. Some say he was the first great ethnomusicologist, a person who studies various cultures and their music. He also pioneered many new string playing techniques.


Ennio Morricone

ennio mSource: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/arts/music/28pare.html

Known originally for his work on Spaghetti Western films, he’s carved out a prolific career writing scores for every conceivable movie genre. Although he never had a big hit like John William’s score for “Star Wars,” he’s been named the most successful movie soundtrack composer ever.


Andrew Lloyd Webber

andrew lloyd weber

The most successful and popular composer in history, his career on Broadway culminated in the 1986 premier of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which became the most popular piece of entertainment of any kind in history. Throughout its 27 year lifespan, The Phantom of the Opera grossed over $5.6 billion and has been seen by more than 130 million people.

Photo: 1. Tracey Nolan from Toronto, Canada, AndrewLloydWebber3, CC BY-SA 2.0 , 2. Georges Biard, Ennio Morricone Cannes 2012, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 3. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 4. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 5. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 6. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 7. Nationalparks, John Williams 2006. (2), CC BY-SA 3.0 , 8. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 10. Marcel Antonisse / Anefo, György Ligeti (1984), CC BY-SA 3.0 NL , 11. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 12. Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0002792_002_Portrait_Dmitri_Dmitrijewitsch_Schostakowitchs_im_Publikum_der_Bachfeier.jpg: Roger & Renate Rössing, credit Deutsche Fotothek. derivative work: talk), Dmitri Shostakovich credit Deutsche Fotothek adjusted, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE , 14. Jack Mitchell, Leonard Bernstein by Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0 , 16. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 17. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 18. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 19. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 20. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 21. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 22. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 23. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 24. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain), 25. WikipediaCommons.com (Public Domain)