Essential Classical Composers

Maria Wodzinska

Do you want to know what made the composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) so special? I'll tell you. Aside from revolutionizing the piano itself, enlarging its scope, the genres it lent itself to, and its breadth of color, Chopin essentially invented the scherzo and instrumental ballade as virtuoso piano movements, and reinvented the etude as a musically engaging genre, rather than a mere exercise.

We hope you enjoyed this year's Essential Classical and Jazz Countdowns! Lists are at the bottom of this post.

That’s right, you voted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), your No. 1 most essential classical composer. His symphonies, operas, concertos, and compositions, in every genre of the time, remain to this day an incredible marvel of genius. And today is the wunderkind from Salzburg's birthday! So we're celebrating with a morning of music devoted exclusively to the great composer.

Four notes (the first three of which are the same) say “classical music” to more people around the world than any other bit of music anyone else has ever written. When Ludwig van Beethoven finally chose those notes, he not only figured out the beginning of his Fifth Symphony and branded classical music forever, he also staked a claim—with an audacity and a power unlike anyone else before or since—to be recognized as “the” composer of classical music.

"Study Bach. There you will find everything." That's what Johannes Brahms said about the King of Baroque. Johann Sebastian Bach is the composer, above all others, whom other composers point to as The One. We're celebrating his 333rd birthday on March 21st! Join us at the top of each hour for works by Bach!

If you “Take Five” to listen to music “In Your Own Sweet Way,” then let’s call a Time Out and just say that you’re thinking of Dave Brubeck. Enough of you did to vote him your No. 3 Most Essential Jazz Artist.

There’s something about those tunes. From Romeo and Juliet to The Nutcracker to the 1812 Overture to the Serenade and symphonies and concertos, Tchaikovsky’s melodies were the first bits of classical music many of us first fell in love with.

The lovable curmudgeon is on everyone’s short list of favorites, it seems, so it’s no surprise that Johannes Brahms is the No. 5 Most Essential Classical Composer by your vote. The symphonies, the Requiem, the concertos and chamber works, and piano pieces and songs—he wrote everything except an opera.

His melodies haunt you with their beauty, and his harmonies and delicate passagework for the piano still astonish us with their freshness. Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) wrote almost exclusively for the piano—preludes and ballades and mazurkas and nocturnes and concertos; Chopin is the pianist’s composer. He is so universally loved that you voted him our No. 6 most essential composer.

Melodies that will melt your heart, and piano passages that will bust your knuckles—that’s what Sergei Rachmaninoff brings to the table. From symphonies to piano concertos, this Russian composer’s music moves you so much you voted him the No. 7 Most Essential Classical Composer.

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