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.
With an HPI of 80.28, Edward Elgar is the most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 61 different languages on wikipedia.
Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, ( (listen); 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.
With an HPI of 80.01, 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. Although he incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements, Purcell's style was a uniquely English form of Baroque music. Generally considered among the greatest English opera composers, Purcell is often coupled with John Dunstaple and William Byrd as England's most important early music composers. No later native-born English composer approached his fame until Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, William Walton and Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.
With an HPI of 76.13, Benjamin Britten is the 3rd most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976) 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.
With an HPI of 73.15, Gustav Holst is the 4th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 53 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.
With an HPI of 72.70, John Barry is the 5th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 51 different languages.
John Barry Prendergast (3 November 1933 – 30 January 2011) was an English composer and conductor of film music. 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 and Out of Africa, as well as the scores of The Scarlet Letter, Chaplin, The Cotton Club, The Tamarind Seed, Mary, Queen of Scots, Game of Death 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. 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. 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), Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa (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 Ah sh*t, here we go again 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.
With an HPI of 72.22, William Byrd is the 6th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 41 different languages.
William Byrd (; birth date variously given as c.1539/40 or 1543 – 4 July 1623) was an English composer of the Renaissance. Widely considered to be one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance and one of the greatest British composers, he had a profound influence on composers both from his native England and those on the continent. He 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. Although he produced sacred music for Anglican services, sometime during the 1570s he became a Roman Catholic and wrote Catholic sacred music later in his life.
With an HPI of 71.74, Thomas Tallis is the 7th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 40 different languages.
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 23 November 1585; also Tallys or Talles) was an English Renaissance composer who occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music. He is considered one of England's greatest composers, and he is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship.
With an HPI of 70.89, Andrew Lloyd Webber is the 8th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 62 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 his songs have been widely recorded and were 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 ranked him the "fifth most powerful person in British culture" in 2008, lyricist Don Black writing "Andrew more or less single-handedly reinvented the musical."He has received a number of awards, including a knighthood in 1992, followed by a peerage for services to the arts, six Tonys, three Grammys (as well as the Grammy Legend Award), an Academy Award, 14 Ivor Novello Awards, seven Olivier Awards, a Golden Globe, a Brit Award, the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors, the 2008 Classic Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and an Emmy Award. He is one of 17 people to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors.His company, the Really Useful Group, is one of the largest theatre operators in London. Producers in several parts of the UK have staged productions, including national tours, of the Lloyd Webber musicals under licence from the Really Useful Group. Lloyd Webber is also the president of the Arts Educational Schools, London, a performing arts school located in Chiswick, West London. He 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. In 2014 he designed a Cats-themed Paddington Bear statue, which was auctioned to raise funds for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
With an HPI of 70.51, John Dunstaple is the 9th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.
John Dunstaple (or Dunstable, c. 1390 – 24 December 1453) was an English composer whose music spans the transition from the medieval to the Renaissance periods. The central proponent of the Contenance angloise style (lit. 'English manner'), Dunstaple was the leading English composer of his time, and is often coupled with William Byrd and Henry Purcell as England's most important early music composers. His surviving music is exclusively vocal, and frequently uses isorhythms, while pioneering the prominent use of harmonies with thirds and sixths. His style would have an immense influence on the subsequent music of continental Europe, inspiring composers such as Du Fay, Binchois, Ockeghem and Busnois.Information on his Dunstaple's life is largely non-existent or speculative, with the only certain date of his activity being his death on Christmas Eve of 1453. Probably born in Dunstable, Bedfordshire during the late 15th-century, Dunstaple was associated with Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Joan of Navarre, and through them, St Albans Abbey. Another important patron was John, Duke of Bedford, with whom Dunstaple may have travelled to France.
With an HPI of 69.33, Ralph Vaughan Williams is the 10th most famous British Composer. His biography has been translated into 45 different languages.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, ( (listen); 12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958) was an English composer. His works include operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces and orchestral compositions including nine symphonies, written over sixty years. Strongly influenced by Tudor music and English folk-song, his output marked a decisive break in British music from its German-dominated style of the 19th century. Vaughan Williams was born to a well-to-do family with strong moral views and a progressive social life. Throughout his life he sought to be of service to his fellow citizens, and believed in making music as available as possible to everybody. He wrote many works for amateur and student performance. He was musically a late developer, not finding his true voice until his late thirties; his studies in 1907–1908 with the French composer Maurice Ravel helped him clarify the textures of his music and free it from Teutonic influences. Vaughan Williams is among the best-known British symphonists, noted for his very wide range of moods, from stormy and impassioned to tranquil, from mysterious to exuberant. Among the most familiar of his other concert works are Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and The Lark Ascending (1914). His vocal works include hymns, folk-song arrangements and large-scale choral pieces. He wrote eight works for stage performance between 1919 and 1951. Although none of his operas became popular repertoire pieces, his ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing (1930) was successful and has been frequently staged. Two episodes made notably deep impressions in Vaughan Williams's personal life. The First World War, in which he served in the army, had a lasting emotional effect. Twenty years later, though in his sixties and devotedly married, he was reinvigorated by a love affair with a much younger woman, who later became his second wife. He went on composing through his seventies and eighties, producing his last symphony months before his death at the age of eighty-five. His works have continued to be a staple of the British concert repertoire, and all his major compositions and many of the minor ones have been recorded.
Pantheon has 91 people classified as composers born between 1390 and 2005. Of these 91, 25 (27.47%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living composers include Andrew Lloyd Webber, Michael Nyman, and John Rutter. The most famous deceased composers include Edward Elgar, Henry Purcell, and Benjamin Britten. As of October 2020, 14 new composers have been added to Pantheon including Charles Avison, Rebecca Clarke, and Henry Bishop.
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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.