Aram Khachaturian
Armenian His best known works are the ballets Spartacus and Gayane (which contains the famous Sabre Dance)
Joseph Haydn
Austrian(1732-1809) – “Father of the Symphony” who wrote more than 109 symphonies. If a question mentions a symphony # higher than 41 (Mozart’s last), it’s a good bet that it’s a Haydn work. He spent most of his adult life working for the Esterhazy family.
Wolfgang Mozart
Austrian(1756-1791) – Perhaps the most asked about composer in quizbowl, his important works are too numerous to be mentioned here completely. Paris, Prague, and Jupiter Symphonies (Numbers 31, 38, & 41) along with operas Abduction from the Seraglio, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute are most common in questions.
Franz Schubert
Austrian(1797-1828) – Schubert is best known for his writing more than 600 art songs (known as lieder) as well as his Symphony # 8 (The Unfinished), Symphony # 9 (The Great) and mysterious and controversial Symphony # 10 (The Last).
Johann Strauss, the Younger
Austrian(1825-1899) – Known as the “waltz king”, he is best known for his Blue Danube Waltz. He is also known for his operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat). Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler
Austrian(1860-1911) – Wrote lieder and song cycles (like The Song of the Earth) but is best known for his symphonies like the Resurrection , the Tragic, and the Symphony of a Thousand. He was also notoriously scared of “The Curse of the Ninth”, believing that he would die soon after completing his 9th symphony. Therefore, he did not number the symphony that he wrote after his 8th symphony.
Arnold Schoenberg
Austrian(1874-1951) – Creator of the “twelve tone system”. Works include Transfigured Night, Moses and Aaron and A Survivor from Warsaw.
Alban Berg
Austrian (1885-1935) – Best known for the atonal operas Lulu and Wozzeck
Cesar Franck
Franck was a master organist, and most music historians put him in the same league as J.S. Bach for being the best organ virtuosos of all time
Heitor Villa-Lobos
Bedrich Smetana
(1824-1884) – Best known for The Bartered Bride, The Moldau, Ma Vlast, and From My Life. He lived for a decade in Sweden and suffered from tinnitus which caused him to hear a continuous high note which plagued him his whole life.
Antonin Dvorak
(1841-1904) – Best known for From the New World which he wrote after a trip to visit family in Spillville, IA in 1893. He played viola in a symphony conducted by Smetana. Other works include Slavonic Dances, Moravian Duets, Stabat Mater and Rusalka (an opera).
Leos Janacek
(1854-1928) – By far the least common of the three, Janacek is best known for Sinfonietta.
Henry Purcell
Only English Baroque composer of note. He was organist for Westminster Abbey for most of his life, so most of his work is sacred music and hymns. He, however, is also known for operas and “semi-operas” like Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen, and Abdelazar.
Edward Elgar
(1857-1934) – Best known for Pomp and Circumstance (written for the coronation of Edward VII, but later used as a graduation standard), Engima Variations, The Land of Hope and Glory (a song based on Pomp and Circumstance). Early in his career, he worked composing songs for a lunatic asylum.
Frederick Delius
(1862-1934) – Fairly obscure, but does come up occasionally. He is best known for Brigg Fair, On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring, and A Village Romeo and Juliet.
Ralph Vaughn Williams
(1872-1958) – Every year, I hear more and more questions about Vaughn Williams, so you definitely want to know about him. He was related to both Charles Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood. Major works include Sinfonia Antarctica, The Sea Symphony, The Lark Ascending, and Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.
Gustav Holst
English. Notice how three of these men all died in 1934. Holst is best known for his The Planets, a work that you should learn more about if you don’t know much about it. He was also heavily influenced by Hindu literature, as evidenced in his Songs from the Rig Veda and Savitri. At the Boar’s Head is another work that comes up a lot.
Benjamin Britten
(1913-1976) – Collaborated with poet W.H. Auden on numerous works including the opera Paul Bunyan. Other works include A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (based on Purcell’s Abdelazar) and the operas Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, and Turn of the Screw
Jean Sibelius
Finlandia is by far his best known work. He also wrote Valse Triste, The Swan of Tuonela, and various works based on the Sagas, the Eddas and the Kalevala.
Hector Berlioz
French(1803-1869) – It was Berlioz’s obsession with the actress Harriet Smithson that inspired his Symphonie Fantastique. This work, with subsections like “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream of a Witches Sabbath” is a common topic of quizbowl questions. Other Berlioz works include Harold in Italy and The Damnation of Faust
Charles Gounod
French(1818-1893) – The story goes that one critic thought that Gounod’s opera Faust was so much better than anything else the composer had ever written that it must not be Gounod’s. Offended, Gounod challenged him to a duel.
Jacques Offenbach
He was born in Germany to Jewish parents, but moved to France as a young man. He usually is credited as a French composer. The works that you need to know are The Tales of Hoffmann (based on the writings of German E.T.A. Hoffmann) Orphesus in the Underworld, and Robinson Crusoe.
Camille Saint-Saens
French(1835-1921) – He fought in the Franco-Prussian War, and had a very public feud with Claude Debussy. His major works include Carnival of the Animals, Danse Macabre, Organ Symphony, and the opera Samson and Delilah.
Georges Bizet
(1838-1875) – He is known mostly for his operas like The Fair Maid of Perth and The Pearl Fishers. His best known opera is Carmen, which is based on a play by Merimee. He also wrote the minor opera L’Arlesienne.
Claude Debussy
(1862-1918) – His music is often described as the musical equivalent of “Impressionism” though it is sometimes referred to as “Symbolism” due to his close association with the Symbolist poets.
Johann Pachelbel
German. (1653-1706) – Baroque composer best known for is Canon in D Major. An excerpt from Pachelbel’s Canon appears in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685-1750) – The best known of a long line of Bach family musicians. He is noted for his use of the contrapuntal technique. His works worth knowing are too numerous to mention but include St. Matthew’s Passion, Bradenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier and Goldberg Variations.
George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759) – Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover (later George I of England). He moved to London when George I became king and lived out his life there (in a house next door to where Jimi Hendrix would later live). He wrote dozens of important works, including Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, The Messiah, and the operas Nero, Xerxes, and Almira.
Cristoph Gluck
German. (1714-1787) – Music teacher of Marie Antoinette best known for the opera Orpheus and Eurydice
Ludwig van Beethoven
(1770-1827) – Student of Haydn. The deafness he developed later in life has been attributed variously to lead poisoning, typhus, and childhood beatings from his alcoholic father. Works include The Kreutzer Sonata, Fur Elise, Fidelio, and The Creatures of Prometheus.
Carl Maria von Weber
(1786-1826) – A cousin (by marriage) of Mozart, he is best known as the founder of German Romantic opera. His major works include Oberon, Euryanthe, and Die Freischutzu.
Giacomo Meyerbeer
(1791-1864) – German Jewish operatic composer who was an early mentor to Richard Wagner. This relationship soured, however, when Wagner wrote “Jewry in Music” which blasted Meyerbeer. Subsequently, the two had a very public feud. Meyerbeer’s best known operas are Les Huguenots and Le Prophete.
Felix Mendelssohn
(1809-1847) – Also criticized by Wagner in “Jewry in Music”. Mendelssohn and his teacher Carl Zelter is credited with reintroducing the works of Bach to European audiences with a performance of St. Matthew’s Passion. His works include Songs Without Words, Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave), Italian Symphony, Scottish Symphony, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Robert Schumann
German(1810-1856) – Married Clara, the daughter of his music teacher Friedrich Wieck. He wrote Papillons, Spring Symphony, and Rhenish Symphony. He attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine River, apparently brought about by madness resulting from a combination of syphilis and mercury poisoning.
Richard Wagner
(1813-1883) – Married the daughter of Franz Liszt. Best known for his operas like Rienzi, The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, Parcifal and The Ring of the Nibelung.
Johannes Brahms
(1833-1897) – Close friend (and possible lover) of Clara Schumann. His works include Academic Festival Overture, German Requiem, Lullaby (AKA Wiegenlied) and Hungarian Dances.
Richard Strauss
He was leader of the State Music Bureau for Nazi Germany, but his views often conflicted with the Nazi Party, and he was removed from the position. He wrote tone poems like Also sprach Zarathustra and Don Quixote, but he is better known for operas like Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, and Ariadne auf Naxos.
Franz Liszt
(1811-1886) – A student of Salieri, he was wildly popular during his lifetime (leading to the phenomenon of “Lisztmania” that swept Europe in the 1840s). His works include Les Preludes, Faust Symphony, Mephisto Waltz, Totentanz, and Hungarian Rhapsodies,
Bela Bartok
Hungarian(1881-1945) – He was primarily interested in folk songs, which heavily influenced his compositions. He’s best known for the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (Duke Bluebeard brings new wife Judith home where she discovers seven mysterious doors) the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin. He also wrote Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and Mikrokosmos.
Zoltan Kodaly
Hungarian(1882-1967) – He’s much less frequently asked about than Bartok or Liszt, but he comes up occasionally. He’s best known for Hary Janos.
Giovanni Palestrina
(1525-1594) – Renaissance composer of sacred music. His Pope Marcellus Mass supposedly convinced the Council of Trent not to ban polyphonic music.
(1567-1643) – While his Madrigals Books are much more prolific, he is best known today for writing what is considered to be one of the first operas ever performed, Orfeo. He also wrote Coronation of Poppaea and The Combat Between Tancred and Clorinda.
Antonio Vivaldi
(1678-1741) – A cleric who spent much of his life working for a girls orphanage (for whom he composed most of his works), Vivaldi was nicknamed “The Red Priest”. His best known work is The Four Seasons (part of the larger Contest Between Harmony and Invention). He also wrote the opera Orlando Furioso.
Domenico Scarlatti
(1685-1757) – Baroque composer best known for writing more than 550 keyboard sonatas.
Niccolo Paganini
(1782-1840) – Violin virtuoso who was so skilled that some claimed he had made a “pact with the devil” (actually it was probably more due to his Marfan’s
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Syndrome that he was able to play so well). He commissioned Berlioz’s Harold in Italy. His best known works are La Campanella (reworked for piano by Liszt) and 24 Caprices.
Gioachino Rossini
(1792-1868) – Italian best known for the operas The Italian Girl in Algiers, Cinderella, William Tell, Barber of Seville, The Thieving Magpie, Tancredi
Gaetano Donizetti
1797-1848) – Along with Bellini and Rossini, he is considered one of the masters of the “bel canto” style. His operas include Don Pasquale, Daughter of the Regiment, The Elixir of Love, Lucretia Borgia, Anne Boleyn, and Lucia di Lammermoor
Vincenzo Bellini
(1801-1835) – Along with Donizetti and Rossini, he is considered one of the masters of the “bel canto” style. His operas include Norma, La Somnambula, I Puritani, and The Capulets and the Montagues.
Giuseppi Verdi
(1813-1901) – Romantic operatic composer whose works include Ernani, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Sicilian Vespers, A Masked Ball, The Force of Destiny, Aida, Otello, and Falstaff.
Amilcare Ponchielli
1834-1886) – Romantic composer best known for La Gioconda (which features the Dance of the Hours)
Ruggero Leoncavallo
1857-1919) – Along with Mascagni, he is considered one of the masters of the “verisimo” style. His best known opera is I Pagliacci and a much less well known version of La Boheme.
Giacomo Puccini
(1858-1924) Prolific composer whose operas are amongst the mos
frequently asked about. His works include Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly, The Girl of the Golden West, and Turnadot
Pietro Mascagni
(1863-1945) – Along with Leoncavallo, he is considered one of the masters of the “verisimo” style. His best known opera is Cavalerria Rusticana
Ottorino Respighi
1879-1936) – Italian composer best known for his Roman Trilogy (Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals). He also wrote Ancient Airs and Dances and Brazilian Impressions
Edvard Grieg
Norwegian (1843-1907). He wrote the incidental music for fellow Norwegian Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt (which includes Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King). He also wrote Lyric Pieces, the Holberg Suite, and Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak.
Frederic Chopin
(1810-1849) – By far the best known Polish composer, Chopin wrote hundreds of piano pieces, most notably mazurkas, etudes, polonaises, and preludes. He carried on a long relationship with the French writer George Sand. His best known works are
(1860-1941) – Although he was a notable pianist and composer, Paderewski is probably best known for being Prime Minister of Poland
Mily Balakirev
(1837-1910) – In addition to leading “The Five”, Balakirev wrote Islamey and Tamarai
Cesar Cui
(1835-1918) – His best known opera is The Prisoner of the Caucasus (based on a Pushkin work). He also wrote the children’s opera, Puss in Boots
Modest Mussorgsky
(1839-1881) – Mussorgsky wrote the operas Boris Gudonov Khovanschina and Sorochintsi Fair His most important orchestral works are Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition (based on an exhibition of his friend, artist Victor Hartmann.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
(1844-1908) – A career naval officer in the Russian navy, he wrote Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol in addition to the Russian Easter Festival Overture. His operas include The Snow Maiden, Mozart and Salieri, The Golden Cockerel and The Tale of the Tsar Saltan (which contains his famous Flight of the Bumblebee)
Alexander Borodin
1833-1887) – Borodin was an accomplished chemist who discovered the Aldol reaction while composing in his spare time. His best known works are In the Steppes of Central Asia and the opera Prince Igor (which contains the Polovtsian Dances
Mikhail Glinka
(1804-1857) – Often considered to be the first important Russian composers, Glinka is best known for Ruslan and Ludmila and A Life for the Czar
Peter Tchaikovsky
(1840-1893) –Tchaikovsky was supported by the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck, allowing him to compose full time. His major works include The 1812 Overture and Romeo and Juliet, ballets like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty, operas like Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, and symphonies like Winter Daydreams, Little Russian, and Pathetique.
Alexander Scriabin
(1872-1915) – Scriabin appears in questions much less frequently than other Russian composers, but when he does, it’s for Poem of Fire and Poem of Ecstasy
Sergei Rachmaninoff
(1873-1941) – Rachmaninoff was a piano virtuoso whose Marfan’s Syndrome allowed his fingers to have range that others did not. His best known works are Isle of the Dead, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and The Bells
Igor Stravinsky
(1882-1971) – Though he wrote some opera (most notably The Rake’s Progress), Stravinsky is best known for his ballets, including The Firebird, The Rite of Spring, and Pulcinella. He also wrote the concerto Dumbarton Oaks and The Symphony of Psalms.
Sergei Prokofiev
(1891-1953) – Prokofiev is best known for his The Love for Three Oranges and Peter and the Wolf, but he wrote several other important works like Scythian Suite, The Prodigal Son, Lieutenant Kije Suite and Alexander Nevsky.
Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906-1975) – Perhaps the most important Soviet composer, Shostokovich’s works include the operas The Nosei and Lady Macbeth of Mtensk. He also wrote the symphonies Leningrad, The Year 1905, and Babi-Yar.
Isaac Albeniz
(1860-1909) – Albeniz is a Catalan composer best known for the piano suite Iberia
Manuel de Falla
(1876-1946) – de Falla is much more likely to come up in questions than Albeniz. His important works are Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the ballet The Three Cornered Hat.
Arthur Honegger
Swiss. Honegger was a member of the group of composers known as “Les Six”. He is best known for the work Pacific 231, which notably imitates the sound of a locomotive.
John Phillip Sousa
American. (1854-1932) – Known as the “March King”, Sousa was bandmaster for the Marine Corps Band. His marches include Semper Fidelis, Stars and Stripes Forever, and the Washington Post March. He also wrote the operetta El Capitan.
Scott Joplin
(1868-1917) – Ragtime composer best known for Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, and the ragtime opera Treemonisha.
Charles Ives
(1874-1954) – Connecticut-born composer who worked as an insurance agent full time while composing on the side. His major works include Concord Sonata, Three Places in New England and Central Park in the Dark.
George Gershwin
American. (1898-1937) – Gershwin’s best known work is Rhapsody in Blue (orchestrated by Grand Canyon Suite composer Ferde Grofe) which features a notable clarinet glissando. Other important works by Gershwin include the ballet An American in Paris. Cuban Overture, and the opera Porgy and Bess.
Aaron Copland
(1900-1990) – Copland is best known for his ballets like Rodeo, Appalachian Spring (which contains the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts) and Billy the Kid. Other notable works include the opera The Tender Land and the orchestral works Lincoln Portrait, El Salon Mexico and Fanfare for the Common Man.
Samuel Barber
(1910-1981) – Barber both lived and collaborated with Gian Carlo Menotti. His best known works are Adagio for Strings, The School for Scandal and the operas Vanessa and A Hand of Bridge
John Cage
(1912-1992) – Cage is an avant-garde composer best known for his “chance music”. He was heavily influenced by the I Ching. His works include Imaginary Landscape, Music of Changes, Number Pieces, 4’33”, and ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible – a 639 year long performance of which is currently in progress in Halberstadt, Germany)
Leonard Bernstein
(1918-1990) – Bernstein was the longtime director of the New York Philharmonic. He wrote the ballet Fancy Free and symphonies like Jeremiah, Kaddish and The Age of Anxiety (based on the WH Auden poem), but his best known work is West Side Story.
Phillip Glass
(1937- ) – Glass is a minimalist composer noted for his operas Einstein on the Beach, Akhnaten, and Satyagraha
John Adams
(1947- ) – Adams is a minimalist composer whose works include the operas Nixon in China (which features The Chairman Dances), The Death of Klinghoffer and Dr. Atomic (based on J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project). His orchestral works include Short Ride in a Fast Machine, On the Transmigration of Souls (written to commemorate the September 11 attacks), The Dharma at Big Sur, Shaker Loops and Phrygian Gates