The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary German Composers of all time. This list of famous German Composers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of German Composers.
With an HPI of 96.58, Ludwig van Beethoven is the most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 194 different languages on wikipedia.
Ludwig van Beethoven ( (listen), German: [ˈluːtvɪç fan ˈbeːtˌhoːfn̩] (listen); baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. Beethoven remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music; his works rank amongst the most performed of the classical music repertoire and span the transition from the Classical period to the Romantic era in classical music. His career has conventionally been divided into early, middle, and late periods. The "early" period, during which he forged his craft, is typically considered to have lasted until 1802. From 1802 to around 1812, his "middle" period showed an individual development from the "classical" styles of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and is sometimes characterized as "heroic". During this time, he began to suffer increasingly from deafness. In his "late" period from 1812 to his death in 1827, he extended his innovations in musical form and expression. Born in Bonn, Beethoven's musical talent was obvious at an early age, and he was initially harshly and intensively taught by his father Johann van Beethoven. Beethoven was later taught by the composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe, under whose tutelage he published his first work, a set of keyboard variations, in 1783. He found relief from a dysfunctional home life with the family of Helene von Breuning, whose children he loved, befriended, and taught piano. At age 21, he moved to Vienna, which subsequently became his base, and studied composition with Haydn. Beethoven then gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist, and he was soon patronized by Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky for compositions, which resulted in his three Opus 1 piano trios (the earliest works to which he accorded an opus number) in 1795. His first major orchestral work, the First Symphony, premiered in 1800, and his first set of string quartets was published in 1801. Despite his hearing deteriorating during this period, he continued to conduct, premiering his Third and Fifth Symphonies in 1804 and 1808, respectively. His Violin Concerto appeared in 1806. His last piano concerto (No. 5, Op. 73, known as the 'Emperor'), dedicated to his frequent patron Archduke Rudolf of Austria, was premiered in 1811, without Beethoven as soloist. He was almost completely deaf by 1814, and he then gave up performing and appearing in public. He described his problems with health and his unfulfilled personal life in two letters, his "Heiligenstadt Testament" (1802) to his brothers and his unsent love letter to an unknown "Immortal Beloved" (1812). After 1810, increasingly less socially involved, Beethoven composed many of his most admired works, including later symphonies, mature chamber music and the late piano sonatas. His only opera, Fidelio, first performed in 1805, was revised to its final version in 1814. He composed Missa solemnis between 1819 and 1823 and his final Symphony, No. 9, one of the first examples of a choral symphony, between 1822 and 1824. Written in his last years, his late string quartets, including the Grosse Fuge, of 1825–1826 are among his final achievements. After some months of bedridden illness, he died in 1827. Beethoven's works remain mainstays of the classical music repertoire.
With an HPI of 94.83, Johann Sebastian Bach is the 2nd most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 181 different languages.
Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March [O.S. 21 March] 1685 – 28 July 1750) was a German composer and musician of the late Baroque period. He is known for instrumental compositions such as the Cello Suites and Brandenburg Concertos; keyboard works such as the Goldberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor; and vocal music such as the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor. Since the 19th-century Bach Revival, he has been generally regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music.The Bach family already counted several composers when Johann Sebastian was born as the last child of a city musician in Eisenach. After being orphaned at the age of 10, he lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph, after which he continued his musical formation in Lüneburg. From 1703 he was back in Thuringia, working as a musician for Protestant churches in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen and, for longer stretches of time, at courts in Weimar, where he expanded his organ repertory, and Köthen, where he was mostly engaged with chamber music. From 1723 he was employed as Thomaskantor (cantor at St. Thomas) in Leipzig. He composed music for the principal Lutheran churches of the city, and for its university's student ensemble Collegium Musicum. From 1726 he published some of his keyboard and organ music. In Leipzig, as had happened during some of his earlier positions, he had difficult relations with his employer, a situation that was little remedied when he was granted the title of court composer by his sovereign, Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in 1736. In the last decades of his life he reworked and extended many of his earlier compositions. He died of complications after eye surgery in 1750 at the age of 65. Bach enriched established German styles through his mastery of counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and his adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach's compositions include hundreds of cantatas, both sacred and secular. He composed Latin church music, Passions, oratorios, and motets. He often adopted Lutheran hymns, not only in his larger vocal works, but for instance also in his four-part chorales and his sacred songs. He wrote extensively for organ and for other keyboard instruments. He composed concertos, for instance for violin and for harpsichord, and suites, as chamber music as well as for orchestra. Many of his works employ the genres of canon and fugue. Throughout the 18th century Bach was primarily valued as an organist, while his keyboard music, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, was appreciated for its didactic qualities. The 19th century saw the publication of some major Bach biographies, and by the end of that century all of his known music had been printed. Dissemination of scholarship on the composer continued through periodicals (and later also websites) exclusively devoted to him, and other publications such as the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV, a numbered catalogue of his works) and new critical editions of his compositions. His music was further popularised through a multitude of arrangements, including, the Air on the G String and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", and of recordings, such as three different box sets with complete performances of the composer's oeuvre marking the 250th anniversary of his death.
With an HPI of 89.39, Richard Wagner is the 3rd most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 148 different languages.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner ( VAHG-nər; German: [ˈʁɪçaʁt ˈvaːɡnɐ] (listen); 22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas (or, as some of his mature works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most opera composers, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works in the romantic vein of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer, Wagner revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, with music subsidiary to drama. He described this vision in a series of essays published between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised these ideas most fully in the first half of the four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). His compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex textures, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs—musical phrases associated with individual characters, places, ideas, or plot elements. His advances in musical language, such as extreme chromaticism and quickly shifting tonal centres, greatly influenced the development of classical music. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. Wagner had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which embodied many novel design features. The Ring and Parsifal were premiered here and his most important stage works continue to be performed at the annual Bayreuth Festival, run by his descendants. His thoughts on the relative contributions of music and drama in opera were to change again, and he reintroduced some traditional forms into his last few stage works, including Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg). Until his final years, Wagner's life was characterised by political exile, turbulent love affairs, poverty and repeated flight from his creditors. His controversial writings on music, drama and politics have attracted extensive comment – particularly, since the late 20th century, where they express antisemitic sentiments. The effect of his ideas can be traced in many of the arts throughout the 20th century; his influence spread beyond composition into conducting, philosophy, literature, the visual arts and theatre.
With an HPI of 89.20, George Frideric Handel is the 4th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 124 different languages.
George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel (; baptised Georg Friederich Händel, German: [ˈɡeːɔʁk ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈhɛndl̩] (listen); 23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759) was a German-British Baroque composer well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, concerti grossi, and organ concertos. Handel received his training in Halle and worked as a composer in Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712, where he spent the bulk of his career and became a naturalised British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition and by composers of the Italian Baroque. Handel started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. In 1737 he had a physical breakdown, changed direction creatively, and addressed the middle class and made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742), he never composed an Italian opera again. His orchestral Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks remain steadfastly popular. One of his four coronation anthems, Zadok the Priest, has been performed at every British coronation since 1727. Almost blind, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man, and was given a state funeral at Westminster Abbey. Handel composed more than forty opera serias over a period of more than thirty years. Since the late 1960s, interest in Handel's music has grown. The musicologist Winton Dean wrote that "Handel was not only a great composer; he was a dramatic genius of the first order." His music exerted a strong influence on Classical-era composers, including Mozart and Beethoven.
With an HPI of 86.84, Johannes Brahms is the 5th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 123 different languages.
Johannes Brahms (German: [joˈhanəs ˈbʁaːms]; 7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer, pianist, and conductor of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, he spent much of his professional life in Vienna. He is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow. Brahms composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, voice, and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. He worked with leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim (the three were close friends). Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms has been considered both a traditionalist and an innovator, by his contemporaries and by later writers. His music is rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Classical masters. While some contemporaries found his music to be overly academic, his contribution and craftsmanship were admired by subsequent figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers. Embedded within those structures are deeply romantic motifs.
With an HPI of 86.35, Robert Schumann is the 6th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 97 different languages.
Robert Schumann (German: [ˈʃuːman]; 8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856) was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. His teacher, Friedrich Wieck, a German pianist, had assured him that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing. In 1840, Schumann married Clara Wieck, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father, Friedrich, who opposed the marriage. A lifelong partnership in music began, as Clara herself was an established pianist and music prodigy. Clara and Robert also maintained a close relationship with German composer Johannes Brahms. Until 1840, Schumann wrote exclusively for the piano. Later, he composed piano and orchestral works, and many Lieder (songs for voice and piano). He composed four symphonies, one opera, and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. His best-known works include Carnaval, Symphonic Studies, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, and the Fantasie in C. Schumann was known for infusing his music with characters through motifs, as well as references to works of literature. These characters bled into his editorial writing in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), a Leipzig-based publication that he co-founded. Schumann suffered from a mental disorder that first manifested in 1833 as a severe melancholic depressive episode—which recurred several times alternating with phases of "exaltation" and increasingly also delusional ideas of being poisoned or threatened with metallic items. What is now thought to have been a combination of bipolar disorder and perhaps mercury poisoning led to "manic" and "depressive" periods in Schumann's compositional productivity. After a suicide attempt in 1854, Schumann was admitted at his own request to a mental asylum in Endenich near Bonn. Diagnosed with psychotic melancholia, he died of pneumonia two years later at the age of 46, without recovering from his mental illness.
With an HPI of 85.00, Felix Mendelssohn is the 7th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 100 different languages.
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847), born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Mendelssohn's compositions include symphonies, concertos, piano music, organ music and chamber music. His best-known works include the overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio St. Paul, the oratorio Elijah, the overture The Hebrides, the mature Violin Concerto and the String Octet. The melody for the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is also his. Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions. A grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn was born into a prominent Jewish family. He was brought up without religion until the age of seven, when he was baptised as a Reformed Christian. Felix was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his talent. His sister Fanny received a similar musical education and was a talented composer and pianist in her own right; some of her early songs were published under her brother's name. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, and revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, notably with his performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829. He became well received in his travels throughout Europe as a composer, conductor and soloist; his ten visits to Britain – during which many of his major works were premiered – form an important part of his adult career. His essentially conservative musical tastes set him apart from more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Charles-Valentin Alkan and Hector Berlioz. The Leipzig Conservatory, which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and antisemitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality has been re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.
With an HPI of 82.74, Jacques Offenbach is the 8th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 84 different languages.
Jacques Offenbach (, also US: , French: [ʒak ɔfɛnbak], German: [ˈʔɔfn̩bax] (listen); 20 June 1819 – 5 October 1880) was a German-born French composer, cellist and impresario of the Romantic period. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s to the 1870s, and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss Jr. and Arthur Sullivan. His best-known works were continually revived during the 20th century, and many of his operettas continue to be staged in the 21st. The Tales of Hoffmann remains part of the standard opera repertory. Born in Cologne, the son of a synagogue cantor, Offenbach showed early musical talent. At the age of 14, he was accepted as a student at the Paris Conservatoire but found academic study unfulfilling and left after a year. From 1835 to 1855 he earned his living as a cellist, achieving international fame, and as a conductor. His ambition, however, was to compose comic pieces for the musical theatre. Finding the management of Paris' Opéra-Comique company uninterested in staging his works, in 1855 he leased a small theatre in the Champs-Élysées. There he presented a series of his own small-scale pieces, many of which became popular. In 1858, Offenbach produced his first full-length operetta, Orphée aux enfers ("Orpheus in the Underworld"), which was exceptionally well received and has remained one of his most played works. During the 1860s, he produced at least 18 full-length operettas, as well as more one-act pieces. His works from this period included La belle Hélène (1864), La Vie parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867) and La Périchole (1868). The risqué humour (often about sexual intrigue) and mostly gentle satiric barbs in these pieces, together with Offenbach's facility for melody, made them internationally known, and translated versions were successful in Vienna, London and elsewhere in Europe. Offenbach became associated with the Second French Empire of Napoleon III; the emperor and his court were genially satirised in many of Offenbach's operettas. Napoleon III personally granted him French citizenship and the Légion d'Honneur. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Offenbach found himself out of favour in Paris because of his imperial connections and his German birth. He remained successful in Vienna and London, however. He re-established himself in Paris during the 1870s, with revivals of some of his earlier favourites and a series of new works, and undertook a popular U.S. tour. In his last years he strove to finish The Tales of Hoffmann, but died before the premiere of the opera, which has entered the standard repertory in versions completed or edited by other musicians.
With an HPI of 82.68, Christoph Willibald Gluck is the 9th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 69 different languages.
Christoph Willibald (Ritter von) Gluck (German: [ˈkʁɪstɔf ˈvɪlɪbalt ˈɡlʊk]; 2 July 1714 – 15 November 1787) was a composer of Italian and French opera in the early classical period. Born in the Upper Palatinate and raised in Bohemia, both part of the Holy Roman Empire, he gained prominence at the Habsburg court at Vienna. There he brought about the practical reform of opera's dramaturgical practices for which many intellectuals had been campaigning. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, among them Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, he broke the stranglehold that Metastasian opera seria had enjoyed for much of the century. Gluck introduced more drama by using simpler recitative and cutting the usually long da capo aria. His later operas have half the length of a typical baroque opera. The strong influence of French opera encouraged Gluck to move to Paris in November 1773. Fusing the traditions of Italian opera and the French (with rich chorus) into a unique synthesis, Gluck wrote eight operas for the Parisian stage. Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) was a great success and is generally acknowledged to be his finest work. Though he was extremely popular and widely credited with bringing about a revolution in French opera, Gluck's mastery of the Parisian operatic scene was never absolute, and after the poor reception of his Echo et Narcisse (1779), he left Paris in disgust and returned to Vienna to live out the remainder of his life.
With an HPI of 82.41, Richard Strauss is the 10th most famous German Composer. His biography has been translated into 78 different languages.
Richard Georg Strauss (German: [ˈʁɪçaʁt ˈʃtʁaʊs]; 11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, and violinist. Considered a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras, he has been described as a successor of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. Along with Gustav Mahler, he represents the late flowering of German Romanticism, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style. Strauss's compositional output began in 1870 when he was just six years old and lasted until his death nearly eighty years later. While his output of works encompasses nearly every type of classical compositional form, Strauss achieved his greatest success with tone poems and operas. His first tone poem to achieve wide acclaim was Don Juan, and this was followed by other lauded works of this kind, including Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, Ein Heldenleben, Symphonia Domestica, and An Alpine Symphony. His first opera to achieve international fame was Salome which used a libretto by Hedwig Lachmann that was a German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde. This was followed by several critically acclaimed operas with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Die ägyptische Helena, and Arabella. His last operas, Daphne, Friedenstag, Die Liebe der Danae and Capriccio used libretti written by Joseph Gregor, the Viennese theatre historian. Other well-known works by Strauss include two symphonies, lieder (especially the Four Last Songs), the Violin Concerto in D minor, the Horn Concerto No. 1, Horn Concerto No. 2, his Oboe Concerto and other instrumental works such as Metamorphosen. A prominent conductor in Western Europe and the Americas, Strauss enjoyed quasi-celebrity status as his compositions became standards of orchestral and operatic repertoire. He was chiefly admired for his interpretations of the works of Liszt, Mozart, and Wagner in addition to his own works. A conducting disciple of Hans von Bülow, Strauss began his conducting career as Bülow's assistant with the Meiningen Court Orchestra in 1883. After Bülow resigned in 1885, Strauss served as that orchestra's primary conductor for five months before being appointed to the conducting staff of the Bavarian State Opera where he worked as third conductor from 1886 to 1889. He then served as principal conductor of the Deutsches Nationaltheater und Staatskapelle Weimar from 1889 to 1894. In 1894 he made his conducting debut at the Bayreuth Festival, conducting Wagner's Tannhäuser with his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna, singing Elisabeth. He then returned to the Bavarian State Opera, this time as principal conductor, from 1894 to 1898, after which he was principal conductor of the Berlin State Opera from 1898 to 1913. From 1919 to 1924 he was principal conductor of the Vienna State Opera, and in 1920 he co-founded the Salzburg Festival. In addition to these posts, Strauss was a frequent guest conductor in opera houses and with orchestras internationally. In 1933 Strauss was appointed to two important positions in the musical life of Nazi Germany: head of the Reichsmusikkammer and principal conductor of the Bayreuth Festival. The latter role he accepted after conductor Arturo Toscanini had resigned from the position in protest of the Nazi Party. These positions have led some to criticize Strauss for his seeming collaboration with the Nazis. However, Strauss's daughter-in-law, Alice Grab Strauss [née von Hermannswörth], was Jewish and much of his apparent acquiescence to the Nazi Party was done in order to save her life and the lives of her children (his Jewish grandchildren). He was also apolitical, and took the Reichsmusikkammer post in order to advance copyright protections for composers, attempting as well to preserve performances of works by banned composers such as Mahler, and Felix Mendelssohn. Further, Strauss insisted on using a Jewish librettist, Stefan Zweig, for his opera Die schweigsame Frau which ultimately led to his firing from the Reichsmusikkammer and Bayreuth. His opera Friedenstag, which premiered just before the outbreak of World War II, was a thinly veiled criticism of the Nazi Party that attempted to persuade Germans to abandon violence for peace. Thanks to his influence, his daughter-in-law was placed under protected house arrest during the war, but despite extensive efforts he was unable to save dozens of his in-laws from being killed in Nazi concentration camps. In 1948, a year before his death, he was cleared of any wrongdoing by a denazification tribunal in Munich.
Pantheon has 152 people classified as composers born between 1496 and 1974. Of these 152, 9 (5.92%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living composers include Hans Zimmer, Klaus Schulze, and Helmut Lachenmann. The most famous deceased composers include Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Richard Wagner. As of October 2020, 23 new composers have been added to Pantheon including Aloysia Weber, Johann Ludwig Krebs, and Johann Krieger.
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Which Composers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Composers since 1700.