Where can I find information about classical music composers?
Entry last updated: 12/05/21
People who write music are called composers. Music is written using musical symbols called notation so that musicians can read it. This written music is called a score.
Classical music is written for different kinds of instruments such as strings, keyboard, wind, brass, percussion, voice, or a combination of these.
Composers decide how many instruments should play a piece of music. They also write instructions for how they want the music to be played eg slow, fast, softly, or loudly. These instructions are often written in Italian.
Famous classical composers
The four main time periods or ages of music are Baroque (1600 to 1750), Classical (1750 to 1827), Romantic (1827 to 1900), and 20th Century.
Some famous classical composers are:
Henry Purcell (1659 to 1695): An English composer who composed many songs, an opera, music for plays, music for the harpsichord and different combinations of instruments.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 to 1759): A German composer who composed hundreds of works of music for choir, orchestra, and individual instruments. He was a source of inspiration for many composers.
George Frederick Handel (1685 to 1759): A German born English composer is famous for his operas, oratorios, and instrumental compositions.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 to 1809): An Austrian composer who developed many of the forms and styles of classical music such as the string quartet and symphony.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 to 1791): An Austrian composer and child genius who is one of the greatest composers in the history of Western music.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 to 1827): A German composer, who marked the change from the Classical to the Romantic era. Despite being deaf for the last ten years of his life, he continued to compose.
Franz Schubert (1797 to 1828): An Austrian composer who wrote many songs which are known for their melody and harmony.
Johannes Brahms (1833 to 1897) : A German composer and pianist who wrote symphonies, concertos, chamber music, piano music, choral compositions, and more than 200 songs. Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven are known as the three 'great Bs' of classical music.
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840 to 1894): The most famous of Russian composers who expressed his emotions through his music. Many of Tchaikovsky's melodies were based on Russian folk songs.
Igor Stravinsky (1881 to 1971): A Russian born composer who moved to the United States in 1939. One of the great composers of the 20th Century, he hugely influenced later composers in the way they wrote pulse, rhythm, and form.
EPIC is a collection of online databases that have been put together especially for New Zealand school students. The databases below are the most suitable to find information on famous composers.
Britannica School has many articles about famous classical composers.
- Select Secondary and type 'Henry Purcell' into the search box.
- The article Henry Purcell (English composer) has information about his life and music. You can also listen to examples of his compositions.
- Make sure you explore the links to the Primary sources, Images & Videos and Related Resources on the page.
Tips: Use the same search method for any other famous composer. You can always read an easier level by selecting from the Article Reading Level found at the top of the page.
This EPIC database has thousands of articles about famous composers, including the historyand culture of music.
- Enter the search word 'Johannes Brahms' as the name of the composer into the search box.
- The article on Johannes Brahms has information about his life and music.
- In the same way type in the names of other composers you want to read about.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, eg [Johannes Brahms]. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
This EPIC site includes information about the lives of many famous composers.
- Enter 'Ludwig van Beethoven' into the search box.
- You will find an article on the life of Beethoven and further down the page are links to different types of information such as biographies, images, audio, videos, and links to magazines and academic papers.
Tips: To get to the EPIC databases you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can log on to AnyQuestions between 1 and 6 pm Monday to Friday, and one of the librarians will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.
There are many good websites about composers and their music. Here are some websites that although aimed at primary levels, have reliable and accurate information.
This website is about learning about music and composers and having fun at the same time.
- Go to the tab on Composers.
- You will find options to look for information on composers in alphabetical order, time period in which they lived, and by country.
- Use the Composer timeline to discover more about composers and what it was like to live during that time.
- The link on Women composers has information about famous women composers and their contribution to music.
Tips: Websites that have .com or .co in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the about Classics for Kids page on the website. That will tell you what the company’s mission and values are.
This is a site for students that is managed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. It has sound bites of famous composers.
- Find Learn and Listen at the top of the page.
- Select Composers from the drop down menu.
- You will find composers are grouped together by the time period in which they lived.
- Choose the composer whose music you want to listen to.
- Each article tells you a little about the composer you have chosen. At the bottom of the page is an audio clip of a selection of that composer's work.
Tips: The site is focused on local visitors, so often mentions DSO Kids Club and local DSO performances.
There have been many books written about classical composers - check out your local public or school library to see what they have.
Some suggested titles are:
- A young person's guide to music byNeil Ardley, Poul Ruders, David Ashby, and BBC Symphony Orchestra.
- The story of the orchestra by Robert Levine and Meredith Hamilton.
- The encyclopedia of music: instruments of the orchestra and the great composers by Max Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson.