R. Christopher Teichler, Composer

The Greatest Composers: A Baker's Dozen

Hello! This is a post from my old WordPress blog from a few years back. I decided it was time to share it once again! Please share your thoughts! - Chris

The Greatest Composers: A Bakers Dozen (originally posted March 22, 2014)

Top Ten lists are everywhere. All over the internet you see: “Top Ten Greatest Movies,” or “Top Ten Greatest T.V. Shows” or “Top Ten Vacation Spots,” etc.  So, as we celebrate the 329th birthday of Johann Sebastien Bach, I decided to do my own Top Ten list of greatest composers!

Then I thought, “Top Ten” is sooo played; I need something different. Something more exciting. AHA! A “Top…..TWELVE!” Lots of things come in twelves: months of the year, school years (not counting kindergarten…), Christ’s disciples, donuts….


That’s when it hit me: what’s better than twelve donuts? Thirteen donuts. A Baker’s Dozen. And while twelve is a perfectly legitimate number to make a “best of” list, thirteen is more. And better. After all:

So what could be better than a list of the twelve greatest composers? Simple: thirteen. So here, in alphabetical order, is my “Baker’s Dozen List of the Greatest Composers,” along with a twitter-inspired 140 characters (or less) explanation:

1. Johann Sebastien Bach – Many consider Bach THE greatest, and rightly so: his craftsmanship is unmatched, and still having a rich depth of expression. Yoda of music.

2. Bela Bartok – A pioneer of ethnomusicology. “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste” and his quartets helped expand the technical palette of strings.

3. Ludwig van Beethoven – The greatest symphonies belong to him (esp. 3,5,7,9); not to mention his outstanding concerti, piano sonatas and string quartets. And deaf.

4. Johannes Brahms – The classical romantic. He owns a masterpiece in almost every genre, and was playing around with barlines long before Stravinsky was born.

5. Frederic Chopin – A prolific composer of piano music. His Preludes are among the most beloved piano literature. Virtuosic writing, yet carefully crafted.

6. Claude Debussy – Revolutionary in how he treated harmony and texture. He is the musical bridge from the Romantic Period and the 20th Century styles. La Mer.

7. George Frideric Handel – The “Hallelujah” chorus might be the most recognizable piece of classical music. The only other baroque composer in the league of J.S. Bach.

8. Franz Joseph Haydn – Basically invented the symphony, and wrote 104 of them. When you’re admired by Mozart and Beethoven, you know you’re doing something right.

9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Symphonies, string quartets, operas, piano sonatas, all so seemingly effortless. If he lived past 35, music is probably different today.

10. Franz Peter Schubert – A bridge from classical to romantic, remarkably prolific in instrumental and vocal music. An “unfinished” life, tragically dying at 31.

11. Robert Schumann – Despite a lifetime of fighting major depression, a large output of art songs, symphonies and piano works. The consummate romantic composer.

12. Igor Stravinsky – Groundbreaking in treatment of rhythm, harmony, tonality. Masterpieces in instrumental and choral music. Mastered every technique he tried.

13. Richard Wagner – Love him or hate him, there’s no denying his impact and influence. “Epic” is too small a word for his operas. Master of the “Leitmotif.”

There you have it. My “Baker’s Dozen” of the greatest composers. What do you think? Who might you switch out and why?


Time to get some donuts.



I respect figures such as Poulenc and certain parts of Stravinsky (like Apollo Musagate), but do not love them. The same is true for people such as Prokofiev and (especially) Shostakovich. I tend to go backwards in order to go forwards since our culture has abandoned the "great tradition" in general in all areas (music, theology, visual arts, poetry, history etc...). As out of step as it may seem, I truly the believe that Western art music peaked between the late Renascence through Beethoven and Schubert with the "classical Romantics" a sort of last hurrah.
Thanks for the feedback, Aaron! Interesting that Sibelius is the most recent composer on your list. Based on your favorites, have you ever looked at Neoclassic composers? There are some gems in there that have been overlooked because of the academy's focus on the serial tree.
Here is my list: 1. Bach 2. Handel 3. Haydn 4. Mozart 5. Beethoven 6. Brahms 7. Mendelssohn 8. Schubert 9. Telemann 10. Monteverdi 11. Palestrina 12. Dvořák 13. Josquin Honorable Mention: Pérotin, the three Sch's (Schein, Scheidt, Schütz), Ockeghem, Couperin, Rameau, D. Scarlatti, Dufay, Schumann, Sibelius, Chopin, Frescobaldi, Lully, Purcell Also, the phrase for Handel "the only other Baroque composer in the league of J.S. Bach" I think is a bit of an overstatement. I think Telemann's best work, and the work of composers such as Frescobaldi and Purcell stack up better than we would like to admit...

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