The Most Famous

COMPOSERS from United Kingdom

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This page contains a list of the greatest British Composers. The pantheon dataset contains 1,216 Composers, 98 of which were born in United Kingdom. This makes United Kingdom the birth place of the 5th most number of Composers behind France, and United States.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary British Composers of all time. This list of famous British 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 British Composers.

Photo of Edward Elgar

1. Edward Elgar (1857 - 1934)

With an HPI of 74.47, Edward Elgar is the most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 64 different languages on wikipedia.

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, ( ; 2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. He was appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1924. Although Elgar is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically, but socially. In musical circles dominated by academics, he was a self-taught composer; in Protestant Britain, his Roman Catholicism was regarded with suspicion in some quarters; and in the class-conscious society of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, he was acutely sensitive about his humble origins even after he achieved recognition. He nevertheless married the daughter of a senior British Army officer. She inspired him both musically and socially, but he struggled to achieve success until his forties, when after a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations (1899) became immediately popular in Britain and overseas. He followed the Variations with a choral work, The Dream of Gerontius (1900), based on a Roman Catholic text that caused some disquiet in the Anglican establishment in Britain, but it became, and has remained, a core repertory work in Britain and elsewhere. His later full-length religious choral works were well received but have not entered the regular repertory. In his fifties, Elgar composed a symphony and a violin concerto that were immensely successful. His second symphony and his cello concerto did not gain immediate public popularity and took many years to achieve a regular place in the concert repertory of British orchestras. Elgar's music came, in his later years, to be seen as appealing chiefly to British audiences. His stock remained low for a generation after his death. It began to revive significantly in the 1960s, helped by new recordings of his works. Some of his works have, in recent years, been taken up again internationally, but the music continues to be played more in Britain than elsewhere. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of acoustic recordings of his works. The introduction of the moving-coil microphone in 1923 made far more accurate sound reproduction possible, and Elgar made new recordings of most of his major orchestral works and excerpts from The Dream of Gerontius.

Photo of Henry Purcell

2. Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695)

With an HPI of 72.40, Henry Purcell is the 2nd most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.

Henry Purcell (, rare: ; c. 10 September 1659 – 21 November 1695) was an English composer of Baroque music. Purcell's musical style was uniquely English, although it incorporated Italian and French elements. Generally considered among the greatest English opera composers, Purcell has been assessed with John Dunstaple and William Byrd as England's most important early music composers.

Photo of Benjamin Britten

3. Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976)

With an HPI of 67.06, Benjamin Britten is the 3rd most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 62 different languages.

Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976, aged 63) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945). Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, the son of a dentist, Britten showed talent from an early age. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and privately with the composer Frank Bridge. Britten first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to international fame. Over the next 28 years, he wrote 14 more operas, establishing himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre. In addition to large-scale operas for Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden, he wrote chamber operas for small forces, suitable for performance in venues of modest size. Among the best known of these is The Turn of the Screw (1954). Recurring themes in his operas include the struggle of an outsider against a hostile society and the corruption of innocence. Britten's other works range from orchestral to choral, solo vocal, chamber and instrumental as well as film music. He took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers, including the opera Noye's Fludde, a Missa Brevis, and the song collection Friday Afternoons. He often composed with particular performers in mind. His most frequent and important muse was his personal and professional partner, the tenor Peter Pears; others included Kathleen Ferrier, Jennifer Vyvyan, Janet Baker, Dennis Brain, Julian Bream, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Osian Ellis and Mstislav Rostropovich. Britten was a celebrated pianist and conductor, performing many of his own works in concert and on record. He also performed and recorded works by others, such as Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart symphonies, and song cycles by Schubert and Schumann. Together with Pears and the librettist and producer Eric Crozier, Britten founded the annual Aldeburgh Festival in 1948, and he was responsible for the creation of Snape Maltings concert hall in 1967. In his last year, he was the first composer to be given a life peerage.

Photo of John Barry

4. John Barry (1933 - 2011)

With an HPI of 65.70, John Barry is the 4th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.

John Barry Prendergast (3 November 1933 – 30 January 2011) was an English composer and conductor of film music. Born in York, Barry spent his early years working in cinemas owned by his father. During his national service with the British Army in Cyprus, Barry began performing as a musician after learning to play the trumpet. Upon completing his national service, he formed a band in 1957, the John Barry Seven. He later developed an interest in composing and arranging music, making his début for television in 1958. He came to the notice of the makers of the first James Bond film Dr. No, who were dissatisfied with a theme for James Bond given to them by Monty Norman. Noel Rogers, the head of music at United Artists, approached Barry. This started a successful association between Barry and the Bond series that lasted for 25 years. He composed the scores for eleven of the James Bond films between 1963 and 1987, as well as arranging and performing the "James Bond Theme" for the first film in the series, 1962's Dr. No. He wrote the Grammy- and Academy Award-winning scores to the films Dances with Wolves (1990) and Out of Africa (1985), as well as the scores of The Scarlet Letter (1995), Chaplin (1992), The Cotton Club (1984), Game of Death (1972), The Tamarind Seed (1974), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and the theme for the television series The Persuaders!, in a career spanning over 50 years. In 1999, he was appointed with an OBE for services to music. Barry received awards including five Academy Awards: two for Born Free and one each for The Lion in Winter (for which he also won the first BAFTA Award for Best Film Music), Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves (both of which also won him Grammy Awards). He also received ten Golden Globe Award nominations, winning once for Best Original Score for Out of Africa in 1986. Barry completed his last film score, Enigma, in 2001 and recorded the successful album Eternal Echoes the same year. He then concentrated chiefly on live performances and co-wrote the music to the musical Brighton Rock in 2004 alongside Don Black. In 2001, Barry became a Fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, and, in 2005, he was made a Fellow of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Barry was married four times and had four children. He moved to the United States in 1975 and lived there until his death in 2011.

Photo of Gustav Holst

5. Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934)

With an HPI of 64.18, Gustav Holst is the 5th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.

Gustav Theodore Holst (born Gustavus Theodore von Holst; 21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher. Best known for his orchestral suite The Planets, he composed many other works across a range of genres, although none achieved comparable success. His distinctive compositional style was the product of many influences, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss being most crucial early in his development. The subsequent inspiration of the English folksong revival of the early 20th century, and the example of such rising modern composers as Maurice Ravel, led Holst to develop and refine an individual style. There were professional musicians in the previous three generations of Holst's family and it was clear from his early years that he would follow the same calling. He hoped to become a pianist, but was prevented by neuritis in his right arm. Despite his father's reservations, he pursued a career as a composer, studying at the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford. Unable to support himself by his compositions, he played the trombone professionally and later became a teacher—a great one, according to his colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams. Among other teaching activities he built up a strong tradition of performance at Morley College, where he served as musical director from 1907 until 1924, and pioneered music education for women at St Paul's Girls' School, where he taught from 1905 until his death in 1934. He was the founder of a series of Whitsun music festivals, which ran from 1916 for the remainder of his life. Holst's works were played frequently in the early years of the 20th century, but it was not until the international success of The Planets in the years immediately after the First World War that he became a well-known figure. A shy man, he did not welcome this fame, and preferred to be left in peace to compose and teach. In his later years his uncompromising, personal style of composition struck many music lovers as too austere, and his brief popularity declined. Nevertheless, he was an important influence on a number of younger English composers, including Edmund Rubbra, Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten. Apart from The Planets and a handful of other works, his music was generally neglected until the 1980s, when recordings of much of his output became available.

Photo of William Byrd

6. William Byrd (1543 - 1623)

With an HPI of 62.27, William Byrd is the 6th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 43 different languages.

William Byrd (; c. 1540 – 4 July 1623) was an English Renaissance composer. Considered among the greatest composers of the Renaissance, he had a profound influence on composers both from his native country and on the Continent. He is often considered along with John Dunstaple, Thomas Tallis and Henry Purcell as one of England's most important composers of early music. Byrd wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard (the so-called Virginalist school), and consort music. He produced sacred music for Anglican services, but during the 1570s became a Roman Catholic, and wrote Catholic sacred music later in his life.

Photo of Keith Emerson

7. Keith Emerson (1944 - 2016)

With an HPI of 60.58, Keith Emerson is the 7th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 41 different languages.

Keith Noel Emerson (2 November 1944 – 11 March 2016) was an English keyboardist, songwriter, composer and record producer. He played keyboards in a number of bands before finding his first commercial success with the Nice in the late 1960s. He became internationally famous for his work with the Nice, which included writing rock arrangements of classical music. After leaving the Nice in 1970, he was a founding member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), one of the early progressive rock supergroups. Emerson, Lake & Palmer were commercially successful through much of the 1970s, becoming one of the best-known progressive rock groups of the era. Emerson wrote and arranged much of ELP's music on albums such as Tarkus (1971) and Brain Salad Surgery (1973), combining his own original compositions with classical or traditional pieces adapted into a rock format. Following ELP's break-up at the end of the 1970s, Emerson pursued a solo career, composed several film soundtracks, and formed the bands Emerson, Lake & Powell and 3 to carry on in the style of ELP. In the early 1990s, ELP reunited for two more albums and several tours before breaking up again in the late 1990s. Emerson also reunited The Nice in 2002 and 2003 for a tour. During the 2000s, Emerson resumed his solo career, including touring with his own Keith Emerson Band featuring guitarist Dave Kilminster, then replaced by Marc Bonilla, and collaborating with several orchestras. He reunited with ELP bandmate Greg Lake in 2010 for a duo tour, culminating in a one-off ELP reunion show in London to celebrate the band's 40th anniversary. Emerson's last album, The Three Fates Project, with Marc Bonilla and Terje Mikkelsen, was released in 2012. Emerson reportedly suffered from depression, and since 1993 developed nerve damage that hampered his playing, making him anxious about upcoming performances. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on 11 March 2016 at his home in Santa Monica, California. Emerson was widely regarded as one of the top keyboard players of the progressive rock era. AllMusic describes Emerson as "perhaps the greatest, most technically accomplished keyboardist in rock history". In 2019, readers of Prog voted him the greatest keyboard player in progressive rock.

Photo of Eugen d'Albert

8. Eugen d'Albert (1864 - 1932)

With an HPI of 60.46, Eugen d'Albert is the 8th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Eugen (originally Eugène) Francis Charles d'Albert (10 April 1864 – 3 March 1932) was a Scottish-born pianist and composer who emigrated to Germany. Educated in Britain, d'Albert showed early musical talent and, at the age of seventeen, he won a scholarship to study in Austria. Feeling a kinship with German culture and music, he soon emigrated to Germany, where he studied with Franz Liszt and began a career as a concert pianist. D'Albert repudiated his early training and upbringing in Scotland and considered himself German. While pursuing his career as a pianist, d'Albert focused increasingly on composing, producing 21 operas and a considerable output of piano, vocal, chamber and orchestral works. His most successful opera was Tiefland, which premiered in Prague in 1903. His successful orchestral works included his cello concerto (1899), a symphony, two string quartets and two piano concertos. In 1907 d'Albert became the director of the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he exerted a wide influence on musical education in Germany. He edited critical editions of the scores of Beethoven and Bach, transcribed Bach's organ works for the piano and wrote cadenzas for Beethoven's piano concertos. He also held the post of Kapellmeister to the Court of Weimar. D'Albert was married six times, including to the pianist-singer Teresa Carreño, and was successively a British, German and Swiss citizen.

Photo of Thomas Tallis

9. Thomas Tallis (1502 - 1585)

With an HPI of 60.22, Thomas Tallis is the 9th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585; also Tallys or Talles) was an English composer of High Renaissance music. His compositions are primarily vocal, and he occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music. Tallis is considered one of England's greatest composers, and is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship.

Photo of Andrew Lloyd Webber

10. Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948)

With an HPI of 60.06, Andrew Lloyd Webber is the 10th most famous British Composer.  His biography has been translated into 64 different languages.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd-Webber, (born 22 March 1948) is an English composer and impresario of musical theatre. Several of his musicals have run for more than a decade both in the West End and on Broadway. He has composed 21 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, two film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass. Several of Lloyd Webber's songs have been widely recorded and widely successful outside of their parent musicals, such as "Memory" from Cats, "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita, and "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In 2001, The New York Times referred to him as "the most commercially successful composer in history". The Daily Telegraph named him in 2008 the fifth-most powerful person in British culture, on which occasion lyricist Don Black said that "Andrew more or less single-handedly reinvented the musical." Lloyd Webber has received numerous awards, including a knighthood in 1992, followed by a peerage for services to the arts, six Tonys, seven Olivier Awards, three Grammys (as well as the Grammy Legend Award), an Academy Award, 14 Ivor Novello Awards, a Golden Globe, a Brit Award, the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors, and two Classic Brit Awards (for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 2008, and for Musical Theatre and Education in 2018). In 2018, after Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety Special (Live), he became the thirteenth person to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors. The Really Useful Group, Lloyd Webber's company, is one of the largest theatre operators in London. Producers in several parts of the UK have staged productions, including national tours, of Lloyd Webber musicals under licence from the Really Useful Group. He is also the president of the Arts Educational Schools, London, a performing arts school located in Chiswick, West London. Lloyd Webber is involved in a number of charitable activities, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Nordoff Robbins, Prostate Cancer UK and War Child. In 1992, he started the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation which supports the arts, culture, and heritage of the UK.

People

Pantheon has 105 people classified as British composers born between 1390 and 2005. Of these 105, 27 (25.71%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living British composers include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Michael Nyman, and Harry Gregson-Williams. The most famous deceased British composers include Edward Elgar, Henry Purcell, and Benjamin Britten. As of April 2024, 7 new British composers have been added to Pantheon including York Bowen, Monty Norman, and John Stanley.

Living British Composers

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Deceased British Composers

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Newly Added British 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.