Decomposing the composer landscape

In the quest to compile and organise the most complete catalogue of classical music, we’ve encountered quite a few interesting insights into how the composer landscape has evolved over the years. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the findings we’ve acquired by doing what we love second most: data analysis (our first is classical music of course 🤓).

Disclaimer: At Primephonic, we’re ridiculously committed to building the most complete catalogue of composers, works, artists and recordings. We do this with a mix of automated algorithms as well as manual curation, which means that this is still an evolving and ever-growing dataset.

To start off, let’s get an overview of how active each composer has been. Below is a graph showing the composer’s birth year mapped against the number of works attributed to them:

What immediately pops up are the outliers: Joseph Haydn, Christoph Graupner and Johann Sebastian Bach have composed over thousands of works each. These composers have definitely been busy, and apparently, Haydn’s work ethic has also had an effect on those related to him, as being a friend and mentor of Mozart, tutor of Beethoven, and older brother Michael Haydn, these composers have also contributed above average number of works:

So, how much impact have these composer outliers actually had to the overall works landscape? Turns out a lot. By mapping composers to their works, instead of finding something like a Pareto distribution (also known as the 80/20 rule), we actually found a much more dramatic distribution.

This represents roughly 2% of composers being responsible for nearly 15% of all works (some composer names have been truncated to fit this graph).

Leaving behind the contributions made by individual composers and focusing on the geographical aspect, we encounter a similar scenario. When we zoom into Europe, we see that just 4 countries (Italy, Germany, UK and France) account for over 60% of composers.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, as it’s common knowledge that Europe has been the birthplace of many of the most popular and well-known composers, but how does the future look like for The Old Continent? Will it continue to reign its dominance over the rest of the world?

To help us answer that question, let’s dive into the following graph:

The horizontal scale represents countries while the vertical scale represents dates, with each dot representing the composer and number of works produced. We can definitely see how Germany and France were very early to the game, with composers dating back to Medieval times. Also very clearly represented here, is the prominence of Italy 🇮🇹 during the Renaissance period, which had otherwise remained dormant until the 15th century, when it appeared to have shifted into a breeding ground for the systematic creation of local talent such as Claudio Monteverdi and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Interestingly enough, we see similar bursts during the Baroque era as well, not only restricted to Italy, but we seem to have sidetracked a bit, so getting back to our original topic now..

Europe has clearly been a strong powerhouse in the creation of classical music in the past few centuries, and by spreading its culture to the rest of the world, it seems to have inspired many new talent overseas. Although several new composers outside of Europe have emerged during the late 19th and early 20th century, one newcomer seems to stand out: United States. Unlike many countries which have produced a short number of sporadic composers, the US has managed to push out a steady stream of composers, especially in the last century. The future is yet to be written, but from the looks of it, it doesn’t look like the US is slowing down.

P.S. Special thanks to our talented team of classical music lovers and experts at Primephonic, for fact-checking this analysis.