Not sure what composers to start with? Help is right here as part of the #GuideToSeries !
This is by no means a comprehensive list – just ten composers I happen to think would make a good introduction, in the most general terms, to classical music.
Bach (Baroque era)
Johann Sebastian Bach was a baroque composer who wrote fugues – complex music with themes that layer and overlap, yet the sound is organized and pure. He also wrote fantastic works for small ensemble, such as the Brandenburg Concertos, six in total. They are glorious.
Beethoven (Classical era)
There are so many different directions I could go with recommending music by Ludwig van Beethoven, but one work I’m particularly fond of is the Symphony No. 7. Dubbed “the apotheosis of the dance”, it’s a lip-shredder for the brass section, has a sublime slow movement, and I have yet to hear it without feeling like I’ve lucked out for being born.
Haydn (Classical era)
We have Haydn to thank for getting the string quartet formalized and organized for future composers, for centuries to come. He was a nice guy and had a gentle sense of humour. He set the stage (see what I did there) for Mozart and Beethoven.
Mozart (Classical Era)
It’s hard to discuss Mozart without getting into superlatives, as his music was so effortlessly brilliant, he seemed to be channeling the Divine. The Piano Concerto No. 21 is a favourite among pianists and audiences alike, and every movement is gorgeous.
Chopin (Romantic era)
Chopin wrote only for the piano, and found new ways to make this instrument sing in a manner previously not done. Most people have heard one of his preludes or nocturnes at some point, so I’m highlighting one of Chopin’s Ballades, which all have a “once upon a time, in a land far, far away” quality to them.
Brahms (Romantic era)
“Well, it’ll be good for my Brahms,” say musicians who are dealing with deep disappointment or heartbreak. Brahms’ music has a way of being intensely personal and wholly universal at the same time, while embracing our souls in a bear hug.
Tckaikovsky (Romantic era)
You already know “The Nutcracker”, the ballet that Tchaikovsky is known for, at least to many families who visit the ballet every holiday season. A great work to check out is the Piano Concerto No. 1, in B-flat minor. The opening is epic and sweeping, and the whole work is full of grand gestures. It’s likely you’ve heard it before.
Gershwin (20th century)
George Gershwin defines an era – his music is an art deco cocktail. Jaunty, clever, and brilliant, his music mixes the structure of classical with the flamboyance of jazz. His rhythms were catchy and driven; overall, very appealing music.
Debussy (Impressionist era)
Debussy’s music is fantastic for the imagination. What the visual artists were doing with Impressionism – blending tone, colour, and blurring the lines (literally) with representational art, Debussy did the exact same thing, musically.
Leonard Bernstein (20th century)
The famed composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic wrote some of the most heralded music of the Broadway stage. West Side Story, a musical depicting a late 1950’s Romeo and Juliet story, tells the story of rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks, and this music depicts the clash, the violence, and love between Tony and Maria, caught in the crossfire.
For fun: “The History of Classical Music” in Three Minutes. There is some overlap of composers from my list!
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