Classical Music Composer Timeline

From the Renaissance to Present Day

Whether you are a student of classical music or just a lover of the art, this timeline will give you a good overview of the main characteristics of each period, along with its most famous composers. As for the definition of classical music, we use it here to mean any non pop, jazz, or other modern form of music, which rose out of the Renaissance to eventually standardize—and then experiment with—such forms as the symphony, concerto, and sonata.

Renaissance Period: 1400–1600

The word Renaissance means rebirth, and this period is exemplified by an interest in all things secular, including Greco/Roman culture, scientific exploration, and travel to distant lands. Composers, too, were interested in breaking free from religious strictures by secularizing formerly religious forms to create more intricate and harmonious compositions. This was a period of great musical inventiveness, as witness the rise of the cantus firmus, chorale, French chansons, and madrigals. Notable composers include:

  • Guillaume Dufay (1400–1474)
  • Johannes Ockeghem (1420–1497)
  • Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450–1521)
  • Alexander Agricola (c. 1446–1506)
  • 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)
  • Jacques Arcadelt (c. 1507–1568)
  • Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585)
  • Giovanni Perluigi 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 Period: 1600–1750

The Baroque is considered the late phase of the Renaissance, marked by a more intricate and even outlandish visual style. In some ways the word applies to the music as well. Compositions became more homophonic, meaning based on one melody with harmonic support coming from a keyboard player. Tonality was divided into major and minor. This period is also characterized by the rise of the fugue, a type of polyphonic composition based on a principal theme (subject) and melodic lines (counterpoint) that imitate the principal theme, and of the opera, the first of which were composed around 1600. The most famous composer of the Baroque is Johann Sebastian Bach, who might also be considered the greatest composer of any period.

  • 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 Period: 1750–1820

This is the period of the "heavy hitters" of classical music: Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Rossini, etc., who gave the world some of the greatest music ever composed. This was a time when musicians returned to more ordered forms and strict compositional "rules and regulations" to govern their pursuit of musical perfection.

  • 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 Period: 1820-1900

An extremely fertile period, the Romantic era of music is expressive, dramatic, and orchestral—composed and played with a level of drama and emotionality not seen in previous eras. Think Wagner's stirring "Ride of the Valkyries" or Tchaikovsky's triumphant "1812 Overture." Composers touched on themes such as romantic love, the supernatural, and even death. Some drew inspiration from the history and folk songs of their native country, while others incorporated foreign influences.

  • 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)
  • Arnold Franz Walter Schoenberg (1874–1951)
  • Gustav Theodore Holst (1874–1934)
  • 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 Friedrich Wilhelm von Webern (1883–1945)
  • Alban Berg (1885–1935)
  • Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofieff (1891–1953)

20th Century: 1900–present

Classical music didn't die in the 20th century so much as reinvent itself. No one trend or style in particular dominates, and composers ranged from the relatively traditional, like Shostakovich and Schuman, to the outrageously experimental, like Karlheinz Stockhausen. Many composers followed the dominant artistic style of the period, from Impressionism to Futurism to Expressionism to Post-Modernism. Composers like George Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Webber not only pushed the envelop of classic structure but can also be considered the grandfathers of American pop music.

  • George Gershwin (1898–1937)
  • Francis Poulenc (1899–1963)
  • Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899–1974)
  • 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 Part (1935–)
  • John Rutter (1945–)
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948–)