Top Romantic Period Composers

From symphonies to opera, exciting changes were taking place in the world of classical music during an 80 year period (1820-1900), as composers began breaking the rules and foundations of classical composition set by the classical period composers who came before them. New musical ideas abounded. There was a great surge of composers, each with their own unique view and compositional style. Music became more personal as composers began expressing their feelings and emotions with the use of non-traditional harmonies, unlikely instruments, and even larger-than-life orchestras (e.g. Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, which featured over 1,000 instrumentalists and singers in its American premiere in 1916). Though there are hundreds of fantastic men and women worth mentioning, to keep it short and simple, here are the top romantic period composers.

1
Vincenzo Bellini

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Portrait of the composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), c. 1830. Artist: Anonymous. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
1801-1835

Bellini was an Italian composer most known for his bel canto operas. His long melodic lines were praised by composers like Verdi, Chopin, and Liszt, and his ability to combine text, melody, and instrumentation and transform it into meaningful emotion is nearly incomparable.  
Popular Works: NormaLa sonnambula, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and I puritani

2
Hector Berlioz

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Portrait of Hector Berlioz (La Cote-Saint-Andre, 1803-Paris, 1869), French composer. Engraving. De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti

1803-1869
Berlioz (a composer, conductor, and writer) was a major influencer on future composers. His famous Treatise on Instrumentation was read and studied by composers including Mussorgsky, Mahler, and Richard Strauss. The book details various aspects western instruments including range, tonality, and use within the orchestra. His music is believed by many musicologists to be immensely progressive at the time, having “romanticized” the symphonic form, programmatic music, and instrumentation.
Popular Works: Les Troyens, Symphonie Fantastique, and Grande messe des morts 

3
Georges Bizet

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Antique portrait of Georges Bizet, composer of Carmen - one of the most famous operas of all time. FierceAbin

1838-1875
Bizet was a French composer that excelled throughout his music education. He won many awards for his skill and composition, and he was surprisingly a talented pianist (which remained largely unknown given his avoidance of performing it in public settings). Sadly, before the composer could enjoy great success, he died three months after the premier of his most famous opera, Carmen, believing it to be a failure. Because of his young age and few works, most of Bizet’s manuscripts were lost, given away, or revised without noting the composer. Though it’s  hard to say with certainty, some believe had he lived a long life, he would have changed the course of French opera.
Popular Works: Carmen

4
Johannes Brahms

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), German conductor and composer. De Agostini / A. Dagli Orti

1833-1897
Brahms was a German composer and a virtuoso pianist. He composed for piano, symphony orchestra, voice, chorus, and more.  With an incredible mastery of counterpoint, he is often compared to Johann Sebastian Bach as well as Ludwig van Beethoven.  Brahms was a “purist” and believed his music should follow the rules of baroque and classical compositions, all the while developing them into a more modern form. He was such a perfectionist, he would sometimes throwout entire pieces because he did not think they were good enough.
Popular Works: Ein deutsches Requiem, Hungarian Dances, Symphony No. 2 in D Major
 

5
Frederic Chopin

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Polish composer and pianist Frederick Francois Chopin (1810 - 1849). Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

1810-1849
Chopin was a remarkable pianist whose music and tutorship was highly sought after. Because of his success, and his propensity to only perform in intimate settings for social elites, Chopin was able to charge large sums for private instruction. All of his compositions include the piano, but the majority of them were written exclusively for solo piano, which include sonatas, mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, etudes, impromptus, scherzos, and preludes.
Popular Works: Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1 (Minute Waltz), Marche Funebre, Etude in C major, Op. 10, and Etude in C minor Op.10 (Revolutionary)

6
Antonin Dvorak

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Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), Czech Composer. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1841-1904
Dvorak was a Czech composer most known for his ability to incorporate folk music into his compositions. In his late career, his music and name became internationally known, having earned many honors, awards, and honorary doctorates.
Popular Works: New World Symphony, American String Quartet, and Rusalka

7
Gabriel Faure

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Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), French composer and organist. Felix Nadar / DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI

1845-1924
Faure was a French composer whose music is considered by many to be a bridge linking late-romanticism to early modernism. His music was so highly regarded at the time of its creation that the French believed he was the greatest executor of French song, a thought that holds true today.
Popular Works: Requiem, Clair de lune, and Pavane

8
Edvard Grieg

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Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Photo by Imagno/Getty Images

1843-1907
Grieg, a Norwegian composer, is one of the many leading romantic period composers. His popular compositions brought international attention to his home country, as well as help develop the country’s national identity.
Popular Works: Peer Gynt Suite and Holberg Suite

9
Franz Liszt

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Franz Liszt, romantic period composer (1843-1907). Photo by PALM/RSCH /Redferns

1843-1907
Hungarian composer and pianist, Franz Liszt is arguably one of the greatest piano players to have ever lived. He is well known for many things, including his ability to transcribe major orchestral works for piano and make them widely popular, the invention of the symphonic poem (using a symphony to tell a story, describe a landscape, or represent any non-musical idea), and progressing thematic transformation (essentially, the evolution of a theme by means of variation).
Popular Works: Hungarian Rhapsodies, Années de pèlerinage, and Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat Major

10
Gustav Mahler

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Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Austrian composer. Photography by Moriz Naehr, 1907. Photo by Imagno/Getty Images

1860-1911
While Mahler was alive, he was better known as a conductor rather than a composer. His conducting methods, which were often criticized, were highly volatile, bold, and unpredictable. It wasn’t until after Mahler’s death that his music became more appreciated. In 1960, Mahler’s rediscovered music became widely popular among the younger crowd whose experimentation and beliefs matched the intensity and passion of his music. By the 1970s his symphonies were most performed and recorded.
Popular Works: Symphony No. 5, Symphony No. 8, and Symphony No. 9
 

11
Modest Mussorgsky

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881).

1839-1881
Mussorgsky was one of five Russian composers nicknamed “The Five”  who would often defy western rules of music in order to achieve a true and pure Russian sound and aesthetic.
Popular Works: Night on Bald Mountain, Pictures at an Exhibition, and Boris Godunov

12
Jacques Offenbach

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Jacques Offenbach, German-born French composer, c1875. (1819-1880). Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1819-1880
Offenbach was a French composer (born in Germany) most notable for his contributions to opera. With nearly 100 operettas he was a major influencer to the many operatic composers to come after him.
Popular Works: Les contes d’Hoffmann, Orphée aux enfers, and Fables de la Fontaine

13
Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).

1858-1924
After Verdi, Puccini became one of the most important Italian-opera composers of the late romantic period. He pioneered the verismo style of opera (operas with librettos that are true to life). Though his operas are adored my millions, some critics argue that Puccini sacrificed form and innovation in order to please the public. Despite that fact, Puccini’s operas are staples in the repertoires of opera houses around the world.
Popular Works: Turandot, Madama Butterfly, Toscaand La Boheme

14
Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

1797-1828
Schubert was extremely prolific composer, despite dying at just 31 years old. He composed over six hundred vocal works, seven symphonies, operas, chamber music, piano music, and more. Many of the romantic period composers to come after him, including the Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms, adored his music. His music and compositional style shows a clear development from the classical period into the romantic period.
Popular Works: Winterreise, Quintet in A Major “Trout” Op. 114, and Piano Trio in E Flat Major
 

15
Robert Schumann

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Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1810-1856
Schumann became a composer after an accident to his hand ended his dream of piano performance. Initially, he wrote exclusively for piano, but later expanded into all forms of music at the time. After his untimely death, his wife, Clara Schumann, a highly renowned piano virtuoso herself, began performing her husband’s works.
Popular Works: Piano Concerto Op. 54, “Kreisleriana” Op. 16, and Symphonic Etudes Op. 13

16
Johann Strauss II

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Johann Strauss II (1825-1899). Leemage/Getty Images

1825-1899
Johann Strauss II, a.k.a. The Waltz King, wrote over 400 dance songs that included waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles. Viennese audiences couldn’t get enough of them. He also wrote a handful of operettas and ballets.
Popular Works: Blue Danube Waltz and Die Fledermaus 

17
A Profile of Pyotr Tchaikovsky

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Pyotor Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). He was the first Russian composer to establish a reputation with Western audiences. Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images
1840-1893
Above all the other composers, Tchaikovsky adored Mozart, and once referred to him as “the musical Christ.” Of other composers, Wagner bored him and he detested Brahms. He is regarded as being the first professional Russian composer, despite receiving criticism from fellow countrymen claiming that he does not represent Russia in his music. Modern musicologists agree that Tchaikovsky’s music was extremely important and influential.
Popular Works: Swan LakeThe Nutcracker1812 Overture, and Romeo and Juliet

18
Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppi Verdi
Giuseppi Verdi (1813-1901).

1813-1901
A few of Verdi’s musical styles are so distinctive, many composers - past and present - would never use them. It’s as if he owns the copy right to them. Verdi elevated Italian opera, working on the foundations set by Bellini and Donizetti. Unlike other composers, Verdi knew his own talents and abilities well. He would work closely with his librettists to ensure that all superferlous details were omitted, stripping the story down to its basic, most relatable and understandable components. This allowed him to write his music in a way that would most efficiently express the story’s meaning.
Popular WorksAida, Requiem, Rigolettoand Falstaff

19
Richard Wagner

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Richard Wagner (1813-1883), German composer. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1813-1883
Wagner has been described as a ruthless, racist, selfish, arrogant, frightening, and amoral man. Other than himself, Wagner was passionate about Beethoven. Though he could barely play the piano, let alone any instrument, and was an “indifferent score reader,” Wagner was able to compose a variety of extraordinary music, most notable being his operas. His operas were Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”), a revolutionary style that emphasized the acting, the poeticism, and the visuals of the set. The music was less important than the drama.
Popular Works: Tannhauser, Lohengrinand The Ring Cycle