When you think of classical music and composers, you’ll most likely be picturing music from the Baroque period between around 1600 to 1750. This period came after the Renaissance in Europe and ended up forming the basis for much of the classical art and music that gets studied and played today.
In this article, we’ll go over the 15 best Baroque composers.
1. Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the first names to come to mind when you think of classical music. He was one of the most influential composers of the late Baroque period and is regarded as one of the best composers ever in western music. He’s a German composer who’s known for orchestral music that makes use of string instruments but is just as popular with keyboards. Cello Suites, St. Matthew Passion, Brandenburg Concertos, and Schübler Chorales are some of his greatest works.
2. Antonio Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi was an Italian composer who rivaled Johann Sebastian Bach in popularity during the late Baroque period. He was a virtuoso violinist and would pioneer new violin techniques and advance the art of writing and adapting music for orchestras. He was also one of the first composers to work on programmatic music, a style that tries to tell a story through its playing, though without speaking a narrative. Four Seasons is his best-known work, a series of violin concertos that are a benchmark of classical music today.
3. Claudio Monteverdi
Another Italian composer, Claudio Monteverdi was one of the artists who shifted the music out of the Renaissance period and into the Baroque period. His work as both a choirmaster and composer led to him becoming a pioneer in the creation of opera music. While much of his original work has been lost, the opera L’Orfeo is well-known and still performed today. Outside of music, many of the letters he wrote survived, allowing historians to take a peek into the life of musicians in Italy during his time.
4. Giacomo Carissimi
Giacomo Carissimi is one of the most popular and well-known composers of the early Baroque period thanks to his work in church music like masses. He was responsible for many of the principles of the Latin oratorio. He was a music teacher in addition to being a composer, with his work, students, and legacy influencing Baroque music throughout Northern Europe. He even turned down some very prestigious positions to remain at the church of Sant’Apollinare, including one that would have seen him take over from Claudio Monteverdi at San Marco di Venezia.
5. Girolamo Frescobaldi
Girolamo Frescobaldi became widely known as one of the best keyboard players of his time, and one of the most important keyboardists of the early Baroque period. He was appointed the organist at St. Peter’s Basilica not once but twice during his lifetime. His work became the standard for counterpoint in music from the late 19th century onwards.
6. Arcangelo Corelli
Arcangelo Corelli’s biggest contribution as a composer was his work in developing concertos and sonatas as a type of work. He was another one of the best violinists of the time and was partly responsible for making the violin one of the most popular instruments in classical music. While he only produced six collections of published works, all of them were long pieces that are used today in musical academies.
7. Alessandro Scarlatti
Alessandro Scarlatti is known as the most important figure of the Neapolitan School of Music because of his role as a founder. The school is responsible for the origin of modern opera based in Naples, Italy. He gained the nickname “the Italian Orpheus” from colleagues and invented the Italian overture in three movements, the four-part sonata, and a technique called motivic development. His work was imitated or used throughout Europe and other influential composers like George Frederick Handel credit him with the inspiration for a lot of Italian works.
8. Domenico Scarlatti
If you thought your dad was hard to live up to, imagine life for Domenico Scarlatti with Alessandro Scarlatti as a father. He came in towards the end of the Baroque period and ended up influencing the beginning of the classical period, which came right after. His training was top-notch, and he composed music in a variety of mediums, from masses and cantatas to operas and sonatas. Today, he is mostly known for his work on 555 sonatas, which were influential in setting standards for keyboard music in the following periods.
9. Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully became an accomplished composer, guitarist, dancer, and violinist who was an integral part of the French Baroque musical style. Though born in Italy, he would become a French subject, and his days were spent at the court of Louis XIV. During his time in the French court, he transitioned to working with French playwright Molière and collaborating on comédie-ballets. He is best known today for his operas and comedic ballets, with his best works including Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Psyché.
10. Francesca Caccini
Known as La Cecchina, Francesca Caccini was one of the most widely influential female composers of the Baroque period of music. Her work as a composer, poet, lutenist, and singer helped her cement a legacy in the cultural and political spectrum as well. While much of her work has been lost over the years, she is responsible for the earliest known opera composed by a woman composer, La Liberazione Di Ruggiero.
11. Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau would be the one to usurp Jean-Baptiste Lully as the master of French opera. He was a trained musical theorist, winning his initial fame with a paper called Treatise On Harmony in 1772, and his further work would make him one of the leading theorists of the 18th century. His instrument of choice was the harpsichord, of which he was also one of the most prominent players. During his career, his work would inspire the ire of the style of music Lully composed first, then later by those who preferred Italian opera. Despite the haters, he would eventually be acknowledged as one of the most talented composers of his time.
12. Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber
Don’t confuse this composer with the Canadian singer. Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber was one of the most important violinists in the history of the instrument. While most violinists rarely reach the fifth position, his music reached both the sixth and seventh position of the instrument easily because he learned using his own style. His works included sacred music and operas, but he is also credited with writing one of the earliest solo pieces for the violin. Fun fact, he published a lot of work but didn’t go on tour to play music often, and even illegally left one of his earliest employers on a whim.
13. Heinrich Schütz
Heinrich Schütz is considered the most important German composer to come along before Johann Sebastian Bach and one of the best composers of the 17th century. While he was an organist by trade, he also dabbled in other works and is credited with composing the first German opera Dafne. Most of his work was done specifically in service of the Lutheran church, leading to his being featured in the North American Calendar of Saints. Today, we have over 500 of his surviving works, though most of the music he wrote for plays and theater has been lost.
14. Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell is considered one of the greatest—if not the greatest—English opera composers of the Baroque period, with no other ones reaching his level of success until the 20th century. One of his greatest works, Come Ye Sons Of Art, was written as the score for a birthday ode to Queen Mary. He would delve out of the world of opera and into score writing, creating musical backgrounds for plays such as The Comical History Of Don Quixote, Bonduca, and The Indian Queen.
15. George Frederick Handel
George Frederick (or Frideric) Handel was born in Germany, but he also worked in Italy and Britain during his lifetime. He is one of the greatest late Baroque composers, bringing a highly affluent style to the scene. He is credited with bringing Italian opera to its peak, creating new genres of English music on his own, and introducing new styles and works to English church music. He’s most famous for works like Water Music, though he wrote four coronation songs in his time, and Zadok The Priest has been played at every British coronation since 1727.
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