Classical music has been around for centuries and has changed a lot since its humble beginnings during the medieval era. It is fascinating to trace it back and see how each generation has influenced its development all the way from monophonic Gregorian chant to serialism and beyond.
In this post, we’ve put together a timeline of classical composers which features some of the most influential composers in history. From Bach to Beethoven, and Dufay to Webern, these composers have greatly contributed to modern music and are often considered to be among the best of all time.
Just a quick note, some of these composers spanned multiple music eras and so we’ve done our best to categorize them although they could easily belong in both!
Medieval Era (500-1400)
The longest classical music era, the medieval period, lasted from 500-1400AD.
Because it was so long, music historians split into three sub-periods: the early medieval period (500-1150), the high medieval period (1150-1300), and the late medieval period (1300-1400).
The typical style of music during this period was monophonic – a type of musical texture that involved a single melodic line with no harmony – but towards the end of the medieval era, polyphonic music began to be used more and more which lead to the Renaissance era.
Below are some of the notable composers from the medieval era:
- Stephen of Liège (850-920AD)
- Fulbert of Chartres (952-1028)
- Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
- Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
- Léonin (c. 1155-1201)
- Pérotin (1160-1220)
- Adam de la Halle (1240-1287)
- Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361)
- Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)
- Francesco Landini (1325-1397)
Renaissance Era (1400-1600)
The Renaissance music era which spanned from 1400-1600AD saw a big development in a number of different areas.
Composers had a lot more freedom in terms of form, harmony, instrumentation, and purpose of the music they were writing.
Below are some of the notable composers from the renaissance era:
- Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474)
- Johannes Ockeghem (1420-
- Alexander Agricola (c. 1446-1506)
- Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450-1521)
- Jean Mouton (1459-1522)
- Pierre de la Rue (1460-1518)
- Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521)
- Francisco de Peñalosa (c. 1470-1528)
- Robert Carver (c. 1485-1570)
- Clément Janequin (1485-1558)
- Francesco Canova da Milano (1497-1543)
- Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585)
- Jacques Arcadelt (c. 1507-1568)
- Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina (1525-1594)
- Francesco Guerrero (1527-1599)
- Orlando de Lassus (1532-1594)
- Francesco Soto de Langa (1534-1619)
- Gioseffo Guami (1542-1611)
- William Byrd (1549-1623)
- François-Eustache Du Caurroy (1549-1609)
Baroque Era (1600-1750)
The Baroque era was from around 1600-1750AD and saw a lot of change in terms of music being written during this time.
The music became a lot more dramatic with more use of dynamics and contrast with lots of musical ornamentation.
It also saw the birth of some new music forms like Opera, concertos, sonatas, oratorios, and more.
Below are some of the notable composers from the baroque era:
- Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629)
- John Dowland (1563-1626)
- Frei Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650)
- Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
- Thomas Simpson (1582-1628)
- Petronio Franceschini (1650-1680)
- Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
- Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
- Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
- Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750)
- Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
- Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
- Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
- Giuseppe Matteo Alberti (1685-1751)
- George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
- Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
- Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758)
- Jean Jacques-Christophe Naudot (1690-1762)
- Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783)
Classical Era (1750-1820)
The Classical music era spanned from around 1750 – 1820 and was a time of great development in the music world.
Not only were some iconic instruments like the piano invented, but it saw a return to more simplistic melodies that were memorable and very singable.
Below are some of the notable composers from the classical era:
- Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784)
- Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
- Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1787)
- Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)
- Johann Ernst Bach (1722-1777)
- Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756)
- Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1806)
- Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795)
- Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
- Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)
- Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
- Franz Xaver Sussmayr (1766-1803)
- Bedřich Dionys Weber (1766-1842)
- Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827
- Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840)
- Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
- Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868)
- Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
- Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (1797-1848)
Romantic Era (1820-1900)
The Romantic era spanned from around 1820-1900 AD was a time of emotional, expressive music.
Composers now wrote music to express feelings such as grief and love through extreme dynamic range, complex chord sequences, the use of rubato, and other musical devices.
It also saw the development of new forms such as tone poems, lieder, nocturnes and rhapsodies, among others.
Below are some of the notable composers from the romantic era:
- Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
- Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
- Johann Strauss I (1804-1849)
- Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
- Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
- Robert Alexander Schumann (1810-1856)
- Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
- Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
- Giuseppe Fortunino Frencesco Verdi (1813-1901)
- Charles François Gounod (1818-1893)
- Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
- Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)
- Cesar Franck (1822-1890)
- Anton Joseph Bruckner (1824-1896)
- Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
- Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
- Eduard Strauss (1835-1916)
- Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
- Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
- Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
- Antonín Dvorak (1841-1904)
- Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
- Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843-1907)
- Gabriel-Urbain Fauré (1845-1924)
- Sir Edward William Elgar (1857-1934)
- Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
- Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
- Achille-Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
- Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
- Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
- Erik Satie (1866-1925)
- Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930)
- Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin (1872-1915)
- Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
- Sergei Vasilievitch Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
- Gustav Theodore Holst (1874-1934)
20th Century Era (1900-Present)
The 20th Century music period began around the 1900s and is considered to be the period we’re still in.
This is the time that composers began to escape the musical conventions from previous years and they branched off into lots of sub-movements like impressionism, modernism, minimalism, and neoclassicism.
Below are some of the notable composers from the 20th-century era:
- Arnold Franz Walter Schoenberg (1874-1951)
- Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954)
- Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
- Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
- Artur Schnabel (1882-1951)
- Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
- Zóltan Kodály (1882-1967)
- Anton Webern (1883-1945)
- Alban Berg (1885-1935)
- Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
- George Gershwin (1898-1937)
- Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
- Maurice Durufle (1902-1986)
- Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)
- Eduard Tubin (1905-1982)
- Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
- Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
- Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
- William Howard Schuman (1910-1992)
- Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)
- Jean Françaix (1912-)
- Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
- Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970)
- Ernest Tomlinson (1924-2015)
- Peter Lamb (1925-2013)
- Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)
- William Mathias (1934-1992)
- Arvo Pärt (1935-)
- John Rutter (1945-)
As you can see, this timeline of classical music composers shows the evolution and progression of classical music over time.
Jumping on YouTube and exploring each of these composers’ music is a great way to see how the styles have changed throughout the years.
There are lots of composers we haven’t included on this list but let us know who you think we’ve missed off and we’ll add them in.