10 of the best Baroque composers
From Bach to Vivaldi, we have the recap of Baroque composers to listen to. At present.
It was during the Baroque period – around 1600-1750 – that the notion of orchestra took on its full meaning and that composers began to superimpose instruments in a complex polyphony – different musical parts – and harmony.
Opera also got off to a strong start, with those by Handel and Purcell still among the most performed today.
Writing for instruments a little different than today, including string instruments with gut strings, the sweet viola da gamba, guitar-like strummed lutes and theorbos, here are some of the most great Baroque composers who ever lived.
Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)
Albinoni, a contemporary of his fellow Italian Baroque composer, Vivaldi (see below), was famous in his day for opera.
But it may surprise you because today he is appreciated for his instrumental works, including his Adagio in G minor and his Oboe Concerto, both published in the Classic FM Hall of Fame this year (#117 and #222 respectively).
Fun fact – even though Albinoni is famous for the Adagio, we’re not 100% sure he even wrote it, or at least was the one who finished the play. An Italian professor found a manuscript fragment in a German library about two hundred years after Albinoni’s death, according to the story, and then reconstructed the entire piece around those few lines.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Oh Bach. Beautiful Bach.
Baroque music – and all music, as far as we are concerned – can begin and end with Bach if one is forced to choose a composer.
It’s hard to think of a contemporary Bach instrument doesn’t write for. And his output was as impressive as his sublime music – from sacred arrangements of passion tales, cantatas, chorales and arias, to instrumental sonatas and concertos, virtuoso keyboard collections and canons as complex as anything we we saw.
The genius German composer and organ improviser extraordinaire has truly earned his enduring place in the musical canon. What if you want to hear even more of Bach’s brilliance? Explore more music from the great Bach family, from JC to CPE.
Read more: Nina Simone plays a stunning Bach-style fugue in the middle of one of her classic songs
Francesca Caccini (1587-1640)
The first Italian Baroque composer Francesca Caccini was the daughter of Renaissance master Giulio Caccini.
The singer, lutenist, poet and teacher was one of Europe’s most influential female composers of her time. And his opera The release of Ruggiero went down in history as the first written by a woman.
George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
Handel, a heavyweight in German and English Baroque, is famous for his operas, oratorios, hymns and organ concertos.
His music for all occasions, such as the “Hallelujah” choir of the Messiah oratorio (Christmas) and Music for the Royal Fireworks (Guy Fawkes Night) are still popular musical landmarks in our calendar years.
And Handel’s coronation anthem, Zadok the Priestwas the track our ancestors chose as the very first to be played on Classic FM all those years ago in 1992 – fitting pageantry indeed!
Read more: We Can’t Stop Watching This Completely Ridiculous Disaster From Handel’s Messiah
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Monteverdi was the grandfather of baroque opera – that is, opera as a whole, pretty much – for many musically minded people.
His date of birth places him at the crossroads of the end of the Renaissance and the first Baroque revolutions. His tragic opera, The Orfeochanged the world of music for good and cemented the lyrical form, as well as telling a powerful story that would be revisited by composers for centuries – including fellow Baroque masters Schütz and Telemann (see below) , Gluck in the classical era and Offenbach in the romantic era.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Italian composer Pergolesi had a tragically short life, even by 18th century standards.
Besides being a famous composer of baroque comic opera, Pergolesi wrote a work of breathtaking beauty Stabat Mater frame, a sacred piece commissioned for an annual Good Friday service in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
An English composer and keyboard virtuoso, Purcell also excelled in the lyrical genre, his crowning achievement being Dido and Aeneaswhich includes the heartbreaking tune “Dido’s Lament”.
Purcell was organist at Westminster Abbey and also served as organist of the Chapel Royal. He composed for the royal family and was a guardian of royal instruments as well as being a court composer during his lifetime.
Read more: The cellist performs a heartbreaking version of Dido’s Lament in memory of George Floyd
Beard Strozzi (1619-1677)
Barbara Strozzi was born in Venice and was the illegitimate daughter of the famous poet Giulio Strozzi.
His father encouraged his talents, sending him to study composition with Francesco Cavalli and creating opportunities for his work to be featured.
Most of her music is written for an accompanied female voice, and she makes this list for the fact that she published many volumes of her own music and actually had more music in print at the same time than any other. Baroque composer during his lifetime.
Besides that, she was a proficient lute player and an excellent singer.
Georg Philippe Telemann (1681-1767)
German Baroque composer Georg Phillip Telemann scores points for his proliferation, having written over 3,000 works.
His music combines German, French, Italian and Polish musical styles in many genres, including operas, orchestral suites, oratorios and other sacred works.
Apparently his family did not approve of his choice of musical career, and Telemann was a largely self-taught instrumentalist and composer, but his talent persisted and he had an incredibly successful career.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Vivaldi wrote some of the most enduringly popular music of the Baroque era, if not all of classical music.
His Four Seasons – the four concertos for violin and orchestra written to depict the turning seasons of the year – sound as fresh and deliciously surprising as they sounded when they were first written. And his sacred works, including his Stabat Mater and Nissi Dominusare also at the top of their genre.
The composer was nicknamed ‘The Red Priest’ and his religious calling meant he did not marry or officially have a romantic relationship – although half-sisters Anna and Paolina Giro are all believed to have been both of Vivaldi’s girlfriends.
Read more: Vivaldi’s ‘maddening’ Four Seasons dropped as music on hold by government hotline