Greatest Composers of All Time

I found this list that might be of interest to the minority of audiophiles that are actually interested in classical music.
Greatest Composers
Thanks for posting this. I can't believe that they used the 1812 overture as an example for Tchaikovsky. All in all it was fun sampling the videos even though some no longer function
Thanks. Classical is about all I listen to. I do on occasion listen to female jazz vocals. I might also add that I am a classical pianist and play mostly Chopin and Beethoven.

I also enjoy listening to Radio Swiss Classic.
I don't doubt that this will be of interest, in the sense of inciting a riot. Haydn
below Rachmaninov, Liszt and Schumann above Brahms and Mahler?
Shostakovich, Bruckner and Dvorak completely absent? Oh my!

Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler, Haydn in that order. The next tier, in no
particular order, Brahms, Wagner, Shostakovich, Schubert, and Schutz. The
next tier, also in no particular order, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Dvorak, and
Chopin. For the final spot, I'd go with Sibelius over Schumann.

Czbbl, I also like Radio Swiss Classic. They are on the same page as me with
respect to there preferences for performance of a given work. Its almost like
they are playing from my own library, but I've also found much new and to my
liking. Plus, I get a little practice on my woefully inadequate German.
Wow I speak some German as well so I like listening to the German version which keeps my ear tuned to the language and it's cadence.
Anthony Tommasini, music critic of the New York Times did a comprehensive series a few years back with plenty of feedback from his readers. A bit different result, his list

10 - Bartok
9 - Wagner
8- Verdi
7 - Brahams
6 - Stravinsky
5 - Debussey
4 - Schubert
3 - Mozart
2 - Beethoven
1 - Bach

I couldn't argue with the top 5 being on any top 10 list but there could be sufficient debate over 6-10. Below the top 3 it shouldn't be "greatest" but "favorite".

I'm a big Rachmaninov and Chopin fan but I've NEVER seen either in a top 10 list of greatest. Chopin is special in his unique genuis with solo piano music. Neither wrote in a variety of different genres, limiting their relevance in the grand scheme of things.
Tubegroover, Astute comment regarding Chopin. It was for exactly that reason that I excluded Verdi (although not Wagner) from my list. I don't see Debussey in the top 5 or Bartok in the top 10, and with Schubert, he just died too young. His late chamber works and the Lieder, as well as some of his piano sonatas are of the highest quality. I could easily agree to Stravinsky being on the list, but that is objectively questionable in view of who you would need to move off. I could, based on personal preference, argue for R. Strauss. But his own judgement, I am a first rate second class composer" should stand.
And why I devote most of my time to playing Chopin; Simply a genius.
I'm glad this thread was initiated.My knowledge base is deeply rooted in jazz, but I'm beginning to include Classical music in the last year or so. Bach's music immediately caught my ear, hope this means I'm headed in the right direction. Just love Rostropovich's cello playing Bach.I want to learn more from following this thread.
Charles1dad - are you familiar with Jacques Loussier? Classical music in jazz.
These discussions are always fun, even though they are quite silly, really. The inclusion of Liszt is absurd for me. I agree with many here who think Stravinsky should be on the list. Another glaring omission, except from Tommassini's list, is Bela Bartok, who is easily in the top fifteen based on sheer compositional craft alone. It would be difficult to find a list of the best pieces of music ever written that did not include his Concerto for Orchestra. Another interesting omission, though much more debatable, is Richard Strauss - again, for me, probably deserving mention on sheer craft alone, though even he once famously referred to himself as "the greatest second-rate composer," which is one of my favorite composer quotes ever.
Oh, I meant to add that I would beg to differ with the OP - in fact, a great many audiophiles listen to at least some classical music - it is classical music, after all, that provides by far the toughest test for a great system, with it's much greater dynamic range and much greater range of timbres. Perhaps the younger audiophiles do not listen to as much anymore, but I would argue that very few long-term audiophiles (and I mean decades long) do not listen to any classical.
No I'm not. I willing to give it a listen, but jazz and classical are just different to me.I wonder how one could blend these two forms successfully.
Agree with you Learsfool regarding Liszt

My favorite or greatest list, mostly based on their range of compositions for what its worth. 4-10 could be swapped around.
1 - Bach
2 - Mozart
3 - Beethoven
4 - Brahams
5 - Schubert
6 - Debussey
7 - Tchaikovsky (I can't believe it either Arh)
8 - Stravinsky
9 - Wagner
10 - Prokofiev (just me I suppose, but I love the unpredicable nature of his music, you never know where its going, very exciting to listen to, particularly his 3rd Piano Concerto)

No I'm not. I willing to give it a listen, but jazz and classical are just different to me.I wonder how one could blend these two forms successfully.
I think a "lister" who would rank Wagner over Haydn or Schubert is highly suspect. Lizst either for that matter.
Learsfool - my comment about few audiophiles enjoying classical music was an expression of my personal opinion that many audiophiles don't really like music at all and that music is only a vehicle through which they can play with their toys - the hifi system. In fact, your comment only serves to reinforce this, in that you state that classical music provides the toughest test for the system with its dynamic range, etc, etc. You're speaking about the music as a test of the equipment. Don't get me wrong. Anyone who buys expensive hifi and says they're only interested in music and not gear is a fuc*!ng liar. We're all interested in the equipment to varying degrees. And I also believe that if someone wants to conduct constant A/B comparisons of equipment in their home, they have every right to enjoy their property in their own manner. As long as I don't have to pay for it, i'm fine. God knows, I'm paying for half the sh!t people have now, so I appreciate anyone who pays for their own stuff. So now, we take the segment of audiphiles that actually like music and pare that down to the number that listen to classical and you probably end up with a very small segment. When I see people asking for system advice, the vast majority state their listening preferences as genres other than classical, IMO.
Chayro. well said and I agree almost totally, except I think paying for those who can't pay for themselves is a requirement of a civilized society.
Well Schubert, by the time the Feds, State and City get through with me, I'm losing 50% of what I earn, which makes me the most civilized person I know.
Charles1dad, in addition to the work of Mr. Loussier that Mcjelo mentioned, I think a composer who did a fine job blending classical and jazz would be George Gershwin, you might want to give some of his music a listen. I will say that by starting with Bach you're joining a lot of us (me included) who started to learn about classical music with the music of J.S. Bach.

I'm going to stay out of rating composers, I'll just listen to their work and be thankful for it.
Agree completely, taking hard earned money from one to redistribute to another who had no role in earning it is hardly a sound definition of civilization.
"I'm going to stay out of rating composers, I'll just listen to their work and be thankful for it."

Well said Rcprince, couldn't agree with you more. My "rating" is more like my favorites based on current listening, subject to change at any given time. There is so much to discover and enjoy.

I really hope this doesn't get sidetracked into the motivations of "audiophiles". It would be just great to share and turn on the uninitiated to some of the greatest art man has created.
Charles1dad, there's no sense going into that old argument, especially here. But if you want to talk about spending money, at the NY Show, the Coincident Pure Reference speakers were absolutely stunning with the matching electronics, which I believe you already have. You really need to buy them. I was joking around with Israel Blume, and I told him I had a pair of Partial Eclipse speakers and he offered to take them back if I wanted to go for the Pure References, so there might be a deal in it for you. Enjoy.
Realizing that everything you have belongs to God and you reason for being is to help others makes you a beliver.
Bach said it and I belive it.

Giving it to corrupt goverment enities makes you a victim.
Bach said that to and I belive that as well.
Tubegroover, I spoke once with Christopher Herrick, a concert organist, and asked him which of the Bach Trio Sonatas (which he plays beautifully, BTW) he liked best; his response was whichever one he was playing at the time. I guess I'm sort of the same way when it comes to my favorite composers and pieces of music.
Charles1dad - I highly recommend Jacques Loussier's The Four Seasons and the Brandenburgs albums over the Bach one that I have. His Chopin Nocturnes was by far my least favorite as it sounds pretty much all the same for something like 24 songs. I heard the Brandenburgs first on his album and then purchased the classical version for comparison.
You're correct nothing to be gained here, but I did really appreciate your
comment.With two grown children out of college and beginning their
respective careers/adult lives the current direction of the country really
disappoints me.

The PRE speaker is excellent I'm sure but I'm very happy with the older
Total Eclipse with the present Coincident components.These terrific
speakers improved further with the Duneland CAST capacitor placed in the
crossover. I am glad you had the opportunity to hear Israel's products.

Chayro I like the make up of your system, I know Classical music and
everything else sounds just fine in your home.
No sense ranking classical composers other than saying that Bach is leaps and bounds still the greatest ever, and the list did get that one right.
Chayro and Charles1dad, Well stated commentaries on the current non-sustainable inherently wrong headed pour someone else's money down utterly ridiculous holes mentality. As has been stated, "Socialism works great until you run out of someone else's money." Now, back to the music. I could not live without Bach, Beethoven and Mahler. Charles1dad, add to the above recommendations Aaron Copland's piano concerto. Leonard Bernstein is the only one I ever heard get this piece right. It is just a gas. Might want to give that a try. Lenny was unique.
I think it's pretty safe to put Bach, Beethoven and Mozart as the top three, far and away--and forget about rating them against one another.

I personally would list Baroque stalwarts such as Handel, D. Scarlatti and Telemann up there with many of the "also-ran" great composers of later years who seem to get mentioned.
As someone who enjoys music of the Renaissance and other early periods, I just want to put in a good word for perhaps the greatest of all composers of early music, Anon.

Incredibly, he was a distinguished and prolific literary author as well.

Best regards,
-- Al :-)
Hi Chayro - I think we are mostly in agreement, actually. When I mentioned that classical was the best way to test a system, what I was actually driving at is that the type of person that is a total gearhead and is not really into music at all, as you described in your follow-up post to mine, is almost never a classical music fan. I think that there is a great deal of irony in that, since classical would actually show off their toys much more than whatever else they are blasting through their systems. As you say yourself, almost none of those type of guys are listening to classical. Classical music lovers who are audiophiles normally either have a very clear idea of what they want in equipment (as far as how they want it to sound), or they like to experiment, and don't really need suggestions from others. They also often have made more of an effort to train their ears in general, since classical music usually requires more careful listening anyway.

I would also say that this particular forum is a little unusual in it's relative lack of discussion of music period, not just classical. On just about every other board I visit, there is quite a bit more discussion of music than on this one, and much of it is indeed about classical. There's a really good jazz discussion going on on this board right now, but I've never seen a similar discussion about really any other type of music on this board. Just about all of the really good discussions on this board center around gear, or aspects of listening that concentrate on the equipment rather than the music itself. Although of course the main focus of this site is the gear, and I get that, for a professional musician like myself, the almost total lack of discussion of music itself on this board is pretty depressing.
Silly question, but here goes.

Incontestable top 5, chronologically: Bach Mozart, Beethoven Brahms, Stravinsky.

Next 5, slightly more contestable, again chronologically: Haydn, Schubert, Ravel, Bartok, Shostakovich.

Nah. On second thought, the second 5 are incontestable too.
I did learn of Jacques Loussier from Mceljo about a year ago.
And as a Bach fan ended up getting one after another. I believe five in total.
The Brandenburgs is quite good.
Correction: Seven.
I just realized that the JLT of "Baroque Favorites" on Telarc is HDCD.
One interesting thing to me is that unless I am remembering wrong, no one has mentioned Bruckner on this thread. In Europe, he is still considered second only to Beethoven as a symphonist. Rnm4, I mostly like your list, though I personally would not list either Ravel or Shostakovitch. To name two other 20th century candidates, how about Prokofiev and Hindemith? As a horn player, I also must have both Strauss and Mahler in a top ten. Another one of my favorites is the late Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo - no one wrote music as chromatic as his again until Wagner. Anyone not familiar with his madrigals in particular should check them out, especially the fifth and sixth books. For an American inclusion in the discussion, I like to promote Charles Ives, for me a much more quintessentially American composer than say Copland.
Learsfool. Bruckner made my list. I like Ives and Copland, but I would have a hard time bumping someone else off my top 15 to include one of them. Another interesting observation, by my memory, there were no British composers. I would wonder if one could not make a case for Britten in a top 15 list. I find so much of his work to be of outstanding quality. While he was not as prolific as some, there are outstanding examples in chamber, orchestral, and vocal genres.
1. Schubert, of course, hey there is a reason for my moniker......
2. Machaut
3. Schnittke
4. Webern
5. Beethoven
6. Mozart
7. Dufay
8. Van Morrison for writing "G-l-o-r-i-a" ;-))
I agree with Learsfool about the value of 'best' lists. Silly and at best fun. Ultimately, in most audio forums anyway, it is a value assigned with no foundation beyond which composer's music impresses that person at that particular time.

The alternative selection criteria for the 'best' could be (and I think should be) based on not only the popularity of the music but, maybe more importantly, the composers contribution to to the evolution of music.

For example, while I don't listen to Bach's music much, his contibution to the developement of music was huge. Wagner, another who introduced a form completely different from that which preceeded him and influenced subsequent composers, maybe not as huge as Bach, but I like Wagner music more. Beethoven is probably the most influential of all balancing both innovation and popularity (then and now). His music for me is just facinating and has been lasting.

The list which started this thread was, no matter how much you may agree with the selections, at least one in which the rational for the selections was set forth and could be the basis for some lively discussions. Not so much for most of the opinions contained in this thread I think.

Because it is so personal, I think, I will not contribute to the list. Who really cares what I like. But I must admit I have found it facinating to see who others have placed on thier lists. So far I've resisted challenging them. Visualize a halo over my head! :-)

Hi Brownsfan - I would certainly agree that a case for Britten in a top 15 is a very strong one.

@Newbee - it could be argued (and I have, against no less an authority than Robert Greenberg) that Wagner had a greater effect on the development of music than any other artist has ever had on their particular art. He is the textbook definition of a true iconoclast. As influential as Beethoven was, music still developed along roughly the same lines after him - whereas after Wagner, it splinters off into all kinds of different reactions, both for and against what he did. Harmony in particular was changed forever.
I would have Schubert in the top five for just what he composed in the last year of his life.

Stravinsky should be in the top fifteen, particularly for his influence on subsequent generations of composers--Rites of Spring was a real game changer.

Although I don't quite know where to place them, the mid century Brits loom large in my estimation--Britten, Walton, Vaughn Williams are all favorites of mine, and others, such as Alwyn are pretty good too.

I would have Schoenberg, Bartok and Shostakovich up pretty high as well for somewhat modern composers.

It would be interesting to see how deep one must go before an American born composer makes the list--Ives, Copland, Barber, Adams, Beach ???

Who, and where placed, would be the first female composer? I have works by about two dozen female composers but none, except Hildegard von Bingen, would be considered major composers.
Learsfool, If you ever get the chance you might enjoy hearing Wagner performed in a small hall with period instruments as it would have during the times he composed. Enjoyable and informative. Hard to find though I think. Barry Wordsworth/New Queen's Hall Orchestra/Eye of the Storm 5001 CD.

Re Beethoven - I would argue that his taking us out of the form of music that preceeded him into the 'romantic' period was huge. For example we went from symphonic form with movements not necesarily sharing anything that were unifying into a 'whole' piece. And, re influence, everyone followed his path. While its readily apparent in the music of Hayden and Mozart I'll throw out an example which clearly illustrates the seperation of movements in the classical period. Mozart's Elvira Madigan Piano Concerto (#21). Where did that 2d movement come from? How does it relate to the first and last movement. Love it anyway, but....

PS I realize that you know all of that and much more, I just really wanted to mention the Wagner HIP recording and its use of period horns but I got carried away.
Schubertmaniac, Only slightly off topic, but since Schubert is your favorite composer I'll ask you - or anyone else who can respond for that matter.

What do you think of Paul Lewis' recordings of Schubert's music for solo piano released in the last year or so? I've been really impressed so far. One CD down, 3 to go. I was mesmerized by his performance of some of the Impromptus'.
Newbee, an answer from"anyone else." I like Lewis's Schubert very much, but I like Richter's better. They are older, with dated sonics, some audience noise, but personally, its the best Schubert I've heard. Cheap too, on the alto label. Praga has a couple SACD releases (remasters I assume) that I haven't heard yet. For the money, the Alto releases are a no brainer.
Hi Newbee - Mozart and Haydn indeed did begin writing works in which all of the movements were unified by motivic development. Mozart's last three great symphonies, and also the Prague; Haydn picked up on this further after Mozart's death with the London symphonies. This was not a new thing with Beethoven, though he did it with much smaller motivic units than his predecessors - this was the main difference, as well as his expansion of the symphonic form. Beethoven's Romanticism is often greatly exaggerated - formally speaking, he is a Classical composer through and through. This is even the case with Schubert, when he writes in sonata form in the symphonies, chamber music, etc. It is in the song form where Schubert begins to be Romantic. The Romantic movement in music does not really start until their successors - Chopin, Schumann and Liszt in particular. These are the first composers who are completely Romantic in outlook and form. The late Charles Rosen wrote a great book on this very subject, which I happened to just finish reading a couple of weeks ago.

As far as the horn in Wagner's day - it was actually very little different from our modern horns, except they were mostly single horns, and still used some crooks, as opposed to the modern "double" horn which does not require crooks. But the valves on the horns in Wagner's day were very little different from our own. The Vienna Philharmonic still uses that type of instrument to this day, by the way. I am a big fan, and keep threatening to buy a Vienna one of these days and use it in my orchestra. As a low horn player, I could probably get away with it in many circumstances. If you search the Vienna Horns, they have recorded a couple of great discs. Those instruments are essentially unchanged from Wagner's day.

Also, the size of the orchestra Wagner ideally liked for his works was indeed the equivalent of the modern large symphony orchestra, though he often had to make do with less earlier in his career - but this was not by his choice. In fact, Wagner loved to triple the winds when performing Beethoven, making the orchestra even larger, something which is not done anymore generally (though again, it is sometimes done in Vienna in certain cases, for instance the third movement of the 6th). Mahler also liked to do that.
1. Bach
2. Beethoven
3. Mozart
4. Mahler
5. Tag team all the others. Don't forget Stravinsky!

Based on title alone, not limited to pure classical, Gershwin and Ellington make it into the conversation at least in the USA.

Of course these are representative only of WESTERN culture. Eastern cultures would probably have a totally different view.

Anyone well rounded enough out there to list the top 10 including both eastern and western culture together, if such a comparison is even possible?
Learsfool, Thank you - I learned something today. I haven't listened to any symphonies by Mozart or Haydn in many years.
Brownsfan, Thanks for your response. Until Lewis I had been relying on Goode, Brendel and Perahia for most, but not all, of my Schubert. I've never heard Richter's recordings of Schubert - I checked and found the Argo disc's on Arkiv and have ordered three of them. Do you have any specific recommendations for the Impromptus' and Wander Fantasy by Richter?
"Beethoven's Romanticism is often greatly exaggerated - formally speaking, he is a Classical composer through and through."

Agree Learsfool but stylistically his symphonies transcended the classical era and are strongly influenced by what was going on around him socially and politically, the 5th is the quinessential example of his romantic inclinations. There is none of this with the symphonies or music, for that matter, of Hayden and Mozart. So in that respect he is the composer that is primarily responsible for introducing the Romantic era, unless there is another composer that I am unaware of that you may be. I am aware of your formidable knowledge of music and look forward to your response.
Take a look at this. 21995-who-your-
favorite-schubertian.html. Apparently I am not alone in thinking Richter
has a way with Schubert. To your question, I do not own a Richter
recording of the Wanderer and only have a couple of the impromptus by
Richter. There are a couple of recordings on the Alto label for sale on
amazon. Archivmusic appears not to carry this label anymore.