The 10 Best Classical Composers Ever (According to the New York Times, That Is)


Two weeks ago, Anthony Tommasini, chief music critic for the New York Times, set out to determine the 10 best classical composers in the history of the world. In a very interesting two weeks, he documented his research online, allowing devoted readers to follow along with videos, articles, and conversations with commenters. The whole thing is definitely worth a read, if not for the insights into classical music themselves (though there are, of course, many) then for the innovative packaging. In an age when transparency is all but clamored for at every turn, a world-class critic has laid open his journey from thought to thought — at least to the extent that it’s interesting, which is all the public wants anyway. Today, Tommasini posted his final article, revealing his list of the ten best classical composers ever — click through to see the list and weigh in with your own favorites.

10. Bartok

“[He is] an ethnomusicologist whose work has empowered generations of subsequent composers to incorporate folk music and classical traditions from whatever culture into their works, and … a formidable modernist who in the face of Schoenberg’s breathtaking formulations showed another way, forging a language that was an amalgam of tonality, unorthodox scales and atonal wanderings.”

9. Wagner

“A production of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cycle has become the entry card for any opera company that wants to be considered big time. The last 20 minutes of “Die Walküre” may be the most sadly beautiful music ever written… Wagner was an anti-Semitic, egomaniacal jerk who transcended himself in his art.”

8. Verdi

“That a new production of a Verdi opera, like Willy Decker’s spare, boldly reimagined staging of ‘La Traviata’ at the Metropolitan Opera, can provoke such heated passions among audiences is testimony to the enduring richness of Verdi’s works”

7. Brahms

“At his best (the symphonies, the piano concertos, the violin concerto, the chamber works with piano, the solo piano pieces, especially the late intermezzos and capriccios that point the way to Schoenberg) Brahms has the thrilling grandeur and strangeness of Beethoven.”

6. Stravinsky

“Stravinsky was still around in the 1960s, writing serial works that set the field of contemporary music abuzz.” [Ed note: Yet another creative great rocking the Lennon frames!]

5. Debussy

“With his pioneering harmonic language, the sensual beauty of his sound and his uncanny, Freudian instincts for tapping the unconscious, Debussy was the bridge over which music passed into the tumultuous 20th century.”

4. Schubert

“You have to love the guy, who died at 31, ill, impoverished and neglected except by a circle of friends who were in awe of his genius… Schubert’s first few symphonies may be works in progress. But the ‘Unfinished’ and especially the Ninth Symphony are astonishing.”

3. Mozart

“If you were to compare just Mozart’s orchestral and instrumental music to Beethoven’s, that would be a pretty even match. But Mozart had a whole second career as a path-breaking opera composer.”

2. Beethoven

“He struggled to compose, and you can sometimes hear that struggle in the music. But however hard wrought, Beethoven’s works are so audacious and indestructible that they survive even poor performances.”

1. Bach

“For his matchless combination of masterly musical engineering (as one reader put it) and profound expressivity.”

Do you agree with this list? Anyone snubbed that you listen to daily? Let us know in the comments!