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The Great Composers

Melanie Spanswick


What is the most frequently asked question when discussing classical composers? Which ones are considered the most important or influential and why. This varies depending on your standpoint of course. It’s a hotly debated topic with many possible contenders. However, three come to mind: J S Bach, W A Mozart and Beethoven. Musicians will argue as to which order they should be mentioned.

Is it Bach, the father of counterpoint? His music is grand and harmonically very adventurous for the seventeenth century.  His organ works are quite simply sublime and he seems to combine that elusive quality of academic brilliance and sheer musical beauty. He is famous too, for fathering 20 children! He was a prolific man.

Or maybe Mozart? He was a wild child prodigy renowned for the simplicity and perfection found in his music. A true genius who could write down what he heard in his mind creating perfect scores with few errors. He was certainly the master of the Classical style which was so popular in the late eighteenth century.

Beethoven was an innovator. His importance cannot be underestimated, whereas Bach and Mozart perfected already established musical styles (Baroque and Classical respectively), Beethoven broke the mould of the Classical style and made way for the Romantic era. The passion and breadth found in his music are breath taking.

There is an argument in that Mozart or Beethoven could not have achieved what they did without the presence of Bach before them. However, that is surely the development of music through the ages? Bach’s music has perhaps survived the test of time more favourably, his rhythmic music having been the inspiration for so many composers and even today pop/crossover acts use Bach as the basis for their recordings (think Vanessa Mae and Bond).

For me though, Beethoven is the winner here (although many would disagree I am sure). It seems Beethoven’s depth of expression, passion and colour surpasses both Bach’s grandeur and Mozart’s perfection. Beethoven’s music always seems real and alive, fresh and relevant even today nearly 200 years since his death (in 1827).  He was a true genius who knew how to write from the soul.