Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) gained
international recognition as an inspired conductor and a
composer whose emotional expression was typical of late
romantic music. An Austrian, Mahler visited the United
States towards the end of his life and served for brief
periods as conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and the
New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Music: Symphony No. 1,
4th movement, "The Titan."
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is widely
regarded as the greatest composer who ever lived. He
began writing minuets at the age of 5, and by the time of
his death at age 35, he had produced 626 cataloged works.
This portrait is from a painting in the Bologna
Conservatory. Music: Eine Kleine Nachtmusic.
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), an Italian
composer, has produced some of the world's best opera.
His gifts for melodrama and sentimental eroticism,
displayed in such works as Tosca and La Boheme, have
assured the continued popularity of his work.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), a Russian
composer, pianist, and conductor, made his home in the
United States after the Russian Revolution of 1917. As
both performer and composer he excelled in a romantic
style characterized by flowing melody and massive chords
used for stirring dramatic effects.
Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-99) immortalized the
Viennese waltz with such compositions as "The Beautiful
Blue Danube" and "Tales of the Vienna Woods." He composed
his first waltz when he was only 6 years old. Music: The
Richard Strauss (1864-1949), a German
composer-conductor, was the last composer of the romantic
tradition. He is best known for his tone poems, such as
Thus Spake Zarathustra, and for operas, including Salome
and Der Rosenkavalier.
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-93), probably the
most popular 19th century Russian composer, was also the
first to have a formal music education. Among his better
known works are the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty,
and the Nutcracker, his opera Eugene Onegin, and the 1812
Overture. Music: The Nutcracker, "Dance of the Sugarplum
Richard Wagner (1813-1883), regarded as the
greatest composer of German opera, used German myths and
legends as a basis for his librettos. Tannhauser,
Lohengrin, and the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen are
among his most admired operas. Music: Die Walkure: Ride
of the Valkyries.
The American conductor and composer Leonard
Bernstein (1918-90) served as musical director of the
New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. His best-known
works include the musical West Side Story (1957) and
Mass, a "theater piece" commissioned for the opening
(1971) of the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
Georges Bizet (1838-75), a 19th century French
composer, is best known for his popular operatic
masterpiece Carmen. Bizet composed several operas, a
symphony, and many other musical works.
Johannes Brahms (1833-97) was a major German
composer of instrumental and vocal music during the 19th
century. In his works, Brahms combined a profound grasp
of technique with the warmth of romanticism.
Aaron Copland (1900-90), one of America's most
versatile contemporary composers, wrote such diverse
works as the ballet Appalachian Spring (1944) and the
film score for Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1939).
Incorporating jazz and folk elements in his compositions,
Copland tried to make contemporary music acceptable to a
large public by writing in a specifically American
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was the foremost
innovative French composer of the late 19th century. He
experimented with harmony and created new and strikingly
original sounds in his orchestral compositions. Debussy
excelled at composing for the piano, and his Preludes for
the instrument are notable examples of his work.
The Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
became prominent at a time when many Bohemians were
advocating independence from the Austrian Empire. Dvorak
reflected this rising spirit of nationalism in his music
by drawing much of his inspiration from the folk melodies
of his native Bohemia.
Duke Ellington (1899-1974), composer, pianist,
and orchestra leader, is considered by many the most
important figure in the history and evolution of jazz. A
prolific composer and arranger, Ellington extended the
form of jazz in works such as Creole Rhapsody (1931) and
Black, Brown and Beige (1943). He was a superb innovator
in every jazz style he adopted, including bebop, stride,
Stephen Foster (1826-64) was the most
significant composer in the United States in the
pre-Civil War period and remains one of America's leading
creators of popular songs. He was attracted to Negro
songs and later imitated them in many of his
compositions, such as "Camptown Races" (1850) and "Swanee
River" (also called "Old Folks at Home" 1851).
The American composer George Gershwin
(1898-1937), shown on the left, gained renown for his
popular Broadway musicals of the 1920s. His brother Ira
(1896-1983), shown on the right, wrote the words for most
of George's songs, including those for the musicals Lady
Be Good (1924), Strike up the Band (1927), and the opera
Porgy and Bess (1935).
The German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47)
was considered one of the foremost composers of the
early 19th century. Within the confines of classical
forms, he created lyrical expressions characteristic of
the early romantic movement. Among his most admired works
are the overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826), the
Scotch symphony (1842), and the violin concerto in E
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), one of the greatest
French composers of the early 20th century, was renowned
for such compelling works as Gaspard de la nuit (1908)
for piano and the immensely popular Bolero (1928). His
masterpiece, the ballet Daphnis et Chloe (1909-12),
exhibits the strongly individual style, skillful
orchestration, and superb craftsmanship that distinguish
Robert Schumann was one of the foremost German
composers of the romantic era. In his songs, piano works,
chamber music, and symphonies, he rendered literary ideas
and visual scenes in expressive musical terms. Schumann
was also an influential critic who helped launch the
careers of Chopin and Brahms.
Dmitry Shostakovich, the most honored Soviet
composer, wrote in a postromantic style of poignant and
somber melody. His opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934)
was condemned as decadent by Soviet authorities, but
Shostakovich regained official favor during the
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1810-56)
created a highly individual romantic musical style by
integrating the spirit of Finnish nationalism with the
German romantic tradition. His seven symphonies
(1899-1924), for which he is best known, evoke haunting
images of the Finnish landscape through intense
orchestral harmonies and folk motifs.
The 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky
(1882-1971) was born in Russia but later emigrated to
France and the United States. He achieved success with
Firebird, a ballet performed in Paris in 1910, but The
Rite of Spring, although now revered as a classic, met
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), one of the greatest
Italian composers of the 19th century, created operas of
dramatic intensity, soaring melody, and subtle
characterization. La Traviata (1853), Aida (1871), and
Otello (1887) are three of his most highly acclaimed
dramatic operas. His works are still among the most
popular in the international operatic repertoire.
Bela Bartok (1881-1945), a 20th-century
Hungarian composer, was a student and collector of folk
music. He combined its rhythmic, melodic, and textural
elements with traditional classical forms to produce a
highly individual style of composition.
Pianist and bandleader Count Basie (1904-84)
was one of the great exponents of swing. He performed
with many famous musicians, such as singer Billie Holiday
and saxophonist Lester Young. (Verve Records)
Benjamin Britten (1913-76), one of the foremost
English composers of the 20th century, was particularly
skillful in writing vocal music and opera. A frequent
theme in his operas is the conflict between innocence and
Jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Miles
Davis (1926-91), who studied at the Juilliard School,
made some of the first "cool" jazz records in 1949-50
with a small jazz group. His best-selling album, Bitches
Brew (1970), signaled his success in extending the
boundaries of jazz and establishing a style that would be
heavily explored by other musicians throughout the
Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), a 19th-century
Italian composer, produced some 70 operas in addition to
sacred and instrumental music. Enormously popular for
both comic and serious opera, Donizetti is best known
today for such works as Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) and
Don Pasquale (1842). The discovery in 1984 of an unknown
Donizetti opera, Elisabeth, was a rare event for such a
Clarinetist Jimmy (1904-57) and trombonist
Tommy (1905-56) Dorsey each led popular swing-era
bands that achieved national prominence. Both bands were
noted for featuring many of the most skillful soloists of
the 1930s and '40s.
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is widely regarded
as the first internationally prominent English composer
since the 17th century. Admired for their brilliant
orchestration, Elgar's works include symphonies,
concertos, overtures, marches, and oratorios. In 1904,
Elgar was knighted by King Edward VII; as master of the
king's music, he was made a baronet in 1931.
Dizzy Gillespie (1917-93) is a jazz
trumpeter-composer-bandleader who, along with Charlie
Parker and Thelonious Monk, is most noted for creating
Bebop. Gillespie has led his own popular groups--from big
bop bands to small combos--in tours of the United States
and much of the rest of the world.
Bandleader and clarinetist Benny Goodman
(1909-86), the "King of Swing" led one of the
greatest of the swing-era big bands. He worked with such
jazz greats as drummer Gene Krupa and vibraphonist Lionel
Alto saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker (1920-55)
was one of the seminal influences in the jazz
movement known as Bebop. In 1945 he and Dizzy Gillespie
made the first definitive bop recordings.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), a 20th-century
Russian composer, combined lyrical beauty and dramatic
dissonance in such works as the opera Love for Three
Oranges (1921), the ballet Romeo and Juliet (1938), and
the symphonic tale Peter and the Wolf (1936). A prolific
composer, Prokofiev also wrote concertos, symphonies, and
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) was one of the
most acclaimed Italian composers of the early 19th
century. Among his most famous works are the comic operas
The Barber of Seville (1816), and Cinderella (1817), and
the influential grand opera William Tell (1829). After
1829, Rossini abandoned the opera and composed only
church music and a few secular works.
Hector Berlioz, the French romantic composer,
conductor, and critic, is known for his delight in
massive sounds produced by huge performing groups, as in
his Requiem (1837). Berlioz was a pioneer in the field of
orchestration, and his 1844 treatise on the subject
greatly influenced later composers.
Gustav Holst was one of the foremost English
composers of the early 20th century. The technical
mastery and harmonic innovations that distinguish his
work are exemplified in his orchestral suite "The
Planets" (1914-17). The influence of both Eastern
mysticism and English folklore is evident in many of
Charles Ives, a 20th-century American composer,
was among the first to use the innovative devices
polytonality and polyrhythm that dominate later musical
composition. He often used traditional American melodies
in his compositions, including hymn tunes, patriotic
songs, and marches. A highly successful executive, Ives
did not publish many of his works until late in life.
The American composer Scott Joplin helped
develop the syncopation and rhythmic diversity
characteristic of the musical genre known as ragtime. The
film The Sting (1973), which featured Joplin's music,
excited renewed interest in his life and work. He was
posthumously awarded the 1976 Pulitzer Prize in
Edward MacDowell, an American composer,
musician, and teacher, created many works inspired by
Franz Schubert, an early-19th-century Austrian
composer, is celebrated for his lieder--songs for piano
and voice. Although he wrote symphonies, chamber music,
and operas, his gift for melodic expression shows best in
his lieder, of which he wrote 634. Schubert was not a
concert performer or a conductor, and therefore he
received limited recognition during his lifetime.
In addition to the marches which earned him the title
"The March King," John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)
composed and arranged many other types of music and even
wrote three novels--The Fifth String (1902), Pipetown
Sandy (1905), and Transit of Venus (1920).
Avant-garde American composer John Cage
(1912-92) has left an indelible mark on 20th-century
music through his experiments with nonmusical sounds and
the element of chance.
French experimental composer and conductor Pierre
Boulez (1925- ) is considered the principal spokesman
for the European avant-garde composers who entered the
world musical scene in the 1950s.
The American-born violinist Yehudi Menuhin (1916-
), who gave his first concert at the age of seven,
supports and helps maintain various educational and
philanthropic institutions, while remaining an active
virtuoso musician and conductor.
The internationally acclaimed concert pianist
Vladimir Horowitz (1904-89) was known for Romantic
pianism and great technical virtuosity. A delicate man,
Horowitz withdrew from concertizing for years at a
Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840) was an Italian
violinist and composer. His first performance outside of
Italy (Vienna, 1928) brought the first of many
hysterically enthusiastic receptions he received in
Germany, France, and England.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a great Russian
composer of the late 19th century. He challenged the
musical tastes of his time by adopting elements of folk
music in such works as The Snow Maiden (1882), containing
echoes of traditional Slavonic melodies. Scheherazade
(1888) evokes an Oriental atmosphere.
Though Henry Purcell (1659-95) lived a very
short life, he remains one of England's most important
composers. Purcell wrote in a recognizably English style,
and his large body of work includes choral music, chamber
music, songs, operas, and theater music.
Clara (1819-96) and Robert (1810-56) Schumann
played a large if not vital role in 19th-century
music, both as virtuoso pianists, Robert as a major
composer and critic and champion of Johannes Brahms
(1833-97), Frederic Chopin (1810-49), and others.