The Greatest Composers: A Baker’s Dozen

Top Ten lists are everywhere. All over the internet you see: “Top Ten Greatest Movies,” or “Top Ten Greatest T.V. Shows” or “Top Ten Vacation Spots,” etc. So, as we celebrate the 329th birthday of Johann Sebastien Bach, I decided to do my own Top Ten list of greatest composers!

Then I thought, “Top Ten” is sooo played; I need something different. Something more exciting. AHA! A “Top…..TWELVE!” Lots of things come in twelves: months of the year, school years (not counting kindergarten…), Christ’s disciples, donuts….


That’s when it hit me: what’s better than twelve donuts? Thirteen donuts. A Baker’s Dozen. And while twelve is a perfectly legitimate number to make a “best of” list, thirteen is more. And better. After all:

So what could be better than a list of the twelve greatest composers? Simple: thirteen. So here, in alphabetical order, is my “Baker’s Dozen List of the Greatest Composers,” along with a twitter-inspired 140 characters (or less) explanation (**FYI, I wrote this article when twitter still only allowed 140 characters!**):

1. Johann Sebastian Bach — Many consider Bach THE greatest, and rightly so: his craftsmanship is unmatched, and still having a rich depth of expression. Yoda of music.

2. Bela Bartok — A pioneer of ethnomusicology. “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste” and his quartets helped expand the technical palette of strings.

3. Ludwig van Beethoven — The greatest symphonies belong to him (esp. 3,5,7,9); not to mention his outstanding concerti, piano sonatas and string quartets. And deaf.

4. Johannes Brahms — The classical romantic. He owns a masterpiece in almost every genre, and was playing around with barlines long before Stravinsky was born.

5. Frederic Chopin — A prolific composer of piano music. His Preludes are among the most beloved piano literature. Virtuosic writing, yet carefully crafted.

6. Claude Debussy — Revolutionary in how he treated harmony and texture. He is the musical bridge from the Romantic Period and the 20th Century styles. La Mer.

7. George Frideric Handel — The “Hallelujah” chorus might be the most recognizable piece of classical music. The only other baroque composer in the league of J.S. Bach.

8. Franz Joseph Haydn — Basically invented the symphony, and wrote 104 of them. When you’re admired by Mozart and Beethoven, you know you’re doing something right.

9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — Symphonies, string quartets, operas, piano sonatas, all so seemingly effortless. If he lived past 35, music is probably different today.

10. Franz Peter Schubert — A bridge from classical to romantic, remarkably prolific in instrumental and vocal music. An “unfinished” life, tragically dying at 31.

11. Robert Schumann — Despite a lifetime of fighting major depression, a large output of art songs, symphonies and piano works. The consummate romantic composer.

12. Igor Stravinsky — Groundbreaking in treatment of rhythm, harmony, tonality. Masterpieces in instrumental and choral music. Mastered every technique he tried.

13. Richard Wagner — Love him or hate him, there’s no denying his impact and influence. “Epic” is too small a word for his operas. Master of the “Leitmotif.”

There you have it. My “Baker’s Dozen” of the greatest composers. What do you think? Who might you switch out and why?

Time to get some donuts.

R. Christopher Teichler

Written by

Composer, Professor, Husband, Father, Bears Fan.

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