Famous British Classical Music Composers

The UK's history of classical composers goes back centuries

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Big Ben at Westminster with The Houses of Parliament, Portcullis House and Westminster Bridge. Richard Newstead/Getty Images

When we think of classical music composers, the names that spring to mind are usually German (Beethoven, Bach); French (Chopin, Debussy); or Austrian (Schubert, Mozart). 

But the United Kingdom has produced more than its share of outstanding classical composers. Here is a list of just a few of the British composers whose music has left its mark on the world.

William Byrd (1543-1623)

With hundreds of individual compositions, William Byrd seemingly mastered every style of music that existed during his lifetime, outshining Orlando de Lassus and Giovanni Palestrina.

 Many of his piano works can be found in "My Ladye Nevells Book" and the "Parthenia."

Thomas Tallis (1510-1585)

Thomas Tallis flourished as a church musician and is considered one of the church's best early composers. Tallis served under four English monarchs and was treated very well. Queen Elizabeth granted him and his pupil, William Boyd, exclusive rights to use England's printing press to publish music. Although Tallis composed many styles of music, the majority of it is arranged for choir as Latin motets and English anthems.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Though born in the same year as J.S. Bach in a town 50 miles away, George Frideric Handel eventually became a British citizen in 1727. Handel, like Bach, composed for every musical genre of his time and even created the English oratorio. While living in England, Handel spent a majority of his time composing operas that were, unfortunately, not very successful.

Responding to changing tastes, he focused more on his oratorios, and in 1741, he composed the most famous one: "The Messiah."

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Ralph Vaughan Williams may not be as well-known as Mozart and Beethoven, but his compositions " Mass in G minor" and "The Lark Ascending" belong on any top lists of classical composition.

Vaughan Williams composed a variety of music including religious music like the mass, operas, symphonies, chamber music, folk songs, and film scores.

Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934)

Holst is best known for his work "The Planets." This orchestral suite with seven movements, each representing one of the other eight planets, was composed between 1914 and 1916. Holst attended the Royal College of Music and was a classmate of Vaughan Williams. Holst loved music and was greatly influenced by other composers. In fact, he fell madly in love with Wagner's music after seeing a performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle at Covent Garden.

Elizabeth Maconchy (1907 - 1994)

An English composer of Irish descent, Maconchy is best remembered for her cycle of 13 string quartets, written between 1932 and 1984. Her 1933 quintet for oboe and strings won an award in the Daily Telegraph's Chamber Music Competition in 1933. 

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Benjamin Britten is one of Britain's most famous 20th-century composers. His popular works include the War Requiem, Missa Brevis, The Beggar's Opera, and The Prince of the Pagodas.

Sally Beamish (born 1956)

Perhaps best known for the 1996 opera "Monster," based on the life of "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley, Sally Beamish began her career as a violinist but is best known for her compositions, including several concertos and two symphonies.