The Most Famous

COMPOSERS from Germany

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This page contains a list of the greatest German Composers. The pantheon dataset contains 1,216 Composers, 171 of which were born in Germany. This makes Germany the birth place of the most number of Composers.

Top 10

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.

Photo of Ludwig van Beethoven

1. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)

With an HPI of 94.62, Ludwig van Beethoven is the most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 203 different languages on wikipedia.

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. He is one of the most revered figures in the history of Western music; his works rank among the most performed of the classical music repertoire and span the transition from the Classical period to the Romantic era in classical music. His 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 styles of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and is sometimes characterized as heroic. During this time, he began to grow increasingly deaf. In his late period, from 1812 to 1827, he extended his innovations in musical form and expression. Born in Bonn, Beethoven displayed his musical talent at a young age. He was initially taught intensively by his father, Johann van Beethoven, and later by Christian Gottlob Neefe. Under Neefe's tutelage in 1783, he published his first work, a set of keyboard variations. 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 was soon patronised 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, 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 several months of illness, which left him bedridden, he died in 1827.

Photo of Johann Sebastian Bach

2. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)

With an HPI of 91.37, Johann Sebastian Bach is the 2nd most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 209 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 his prolific authorship of music across a variety of instruments and forms, including; orchestral music such as the Brandenburg Concertos; solo instrumental works such as the cello suites and sonatas and partitas for solo violin; keyboard works such as the Goldberg Variations and The Well-Tempered Clavier; organ works such as the Schubler Chorales and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor; and choral works 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, Johann Ambrosius, 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 education 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's) in Leipzig. There 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 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 a botched 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 contrapuntal techniques like 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.

Photo of Richard Wagner

3. Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883)

With an HPI of 84.82, Richard Wagner is the 3rd most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 153 different languages.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner ( VAHG-nər; German: [ˈʁɪçaʁt ˈvaːɡnɐ] ; 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, which was galvanized by the efforts of his wife Cosima Wagner and the family's 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, as 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.

Photo of George Frideric Handel

4. George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)

With an HPI of 84.20, George Frideric Handel is the 4th most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 129 different languages.

George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel (; baptised Georg Fried(e)rich Händel, German: [ˈɡeːɔʁk ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈhɛndl̩] ; 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. In turn, Handel's music forms one of the peaks of the "high baroque" style, bringing Italian opera to its highest development, creating the genres of English oratorio and organ concerto, and introducing a new style into English church music. He is consistently recognized as one of the greatest composers of his age. 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 opere serie 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 was admired by Classical-era composers, especially Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

Photo of Robert Schumann

5. Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856)

With an HPI of 82.86, Robert Schumann is the 5th most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 100 different languages.

Robert Schumann (German: [ˈʁoːbɛʁt 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 Friedrich Wieck's daughter Clara Wieck, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with 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 developed 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 (now in Bonn). Diagnosed with psychotic melancholia, he died of pneumonia two years later at the age of 46, without recovering from his mental illness.

Photo of Johannes Brahms

6. Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)

With an HPI of 81.99, Johannes Brahms is the 6th most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 128 different languages.

Johannes Brahms (German: [joˈhanəs ˈbʁaːms]; 7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer, pianist, and conductor of the mid-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. Embedded within those structures are deeply Romantic motifs. 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 detailed construction of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.

Photo of Felix Mendelssohn

7. Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847)

With an HPI of 79.13, Felix Mendelssohn is the 7th most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 101 different languages.

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847), 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 (which includes his "Wedding March"), the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio St. Paul, the oratorio Elijah, the overture The Hebrides, the mature Violin Concerto, the String Octet, and the melody used in the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions. Mendelssohn's grandfather was the renowned Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, but Felix was initially raised without religion until he was baptised aged seven into the Reformed Christian church. He was recognised early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalise on his talent. His sister Fanny Mendelssohn 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 and her Easter Sonata was for a time mistakenly attributed to him after being lost and rediscovered in the 1970s. 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.

Photo of Jacques Offenbach

8. Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880)

With an HPI of 76.80, Jacques Offenbach is the 8th most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 91 different languages.

Jacques Offenbach () 20 June 1819 – 5 October 1880) was a German-born French composer, cellist and impresario. 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 Franz von Suppé, 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, Kingdom of Prussia, 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, but remained in Paris. 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's Opéra-Comique company uninterested in staging his works, in 1855 he leased a small theatre in the Champs-Élysées. There, during the next three years, he presented a series of more than two dozen 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"), with its celebrated can-can; the work was exceptionally well received and has remained his most played. During the 1860s, he produced at least eighteen full-length operettas, as well as more one-act pieces. His works from this period include 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, elsewhere in Europe and in the US. 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, and Napoleon personally granted him French citizenship and the Légion d'honneur. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and the fall of the empire, Offenbach found himself out of favour in Paris because of his imperial connections and his German birth. He remained successful in Vienna, London and New York. 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 US 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.

Photo of Christoph Willibald Gluck

9. Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714 - 1787)

With an HPI of 76.57, Christoph Willibald Gluck is the 9th most famous German Composer.  His biography has been translated into 68 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 orchestral 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 often considered 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.

Photo of Richard Strauss

10. Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)

With an HPI of 76.36, 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 and conductor best known for his tone poems and operas. 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. 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 against 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 to save her life and the lives of her children (his Jewish grandchildren). He was also apolitical, and took the Reichsmusikkammer post 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.

People

Pantheon has 180 people classified as German composers born between 1496 and 1974. Of these 180, 11 (6.11%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living German composers include Hans Zimmer, Helmut Lachenmann, and Max Richter. The most famous deceased German composers include Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Richard Wagner. As of April 2024, 9 new German composers have been added to Pantheon including Herms Niel, Daniel Gottlob Türk, and Jean Gilbert.

Living German Composers

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Deceased German Composers

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Newly Added German Composers (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Composers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Composers since 1700.