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A r t s & L i f e

Top composers … at a glance

Austria and Germany are famous for their composers of classical music. From

Beethoven to Mozart — there is something for everyone. The following gives a

brief profile of some leading lights.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Johann Sebastian Bach

Joseph Haydn

Ludwig van Beethoven

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 17, 1770,

in Bonn, Germany. He was an innovator, widening the scope of

sonata, symphony, concerto and quartet and combining vocals

and instruments in a new way.

At the same time as he was composing these great and immortal

works, Beethoven was struggling to come to terms with a shocking

and terrible fact, one that he tried desperately to conceal. He was

going deaf. Despite this, some of his most important works were

composed during the last ten years of his life, when he could not


Sometime between the births of his two younger brothers,

Beethoven’s father began teaching himmusic. Beethoven changed

music, the sound of music and what composers did. He wrote

nine symphonies that jolted music out of itself. Life could never

and would never be the same again. The “classical” rationality of

structure, harmony, form, melodic development and orchestration

stretched into open-ended possibility. He died in 1827 at the age

of 56 from a stroke.

Johann Sebastian Bach

A magnificent baroque-era composer, Johann Sebastian Bach is

revered through the ages for his work’s musical complexities and

stylistic innovations.

He was born in 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany. Some

of his best-known compositions are the ‘Mass in B Minor’, the

‘Brandenburg Concertos’ and ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’.

His father, Johann Ambrosius, worked as the town musician

in Eisenach and is said to have taught young Johann to play the

violin. At the age of seven, Bach went to school where he received

religious instruction and studied Latin and other subjects.

Bach had a beautiful soprano singing voice which helped him

land a place at a school in Lüneburg. He was a master at counter-

point: composition based on independent musical lines played


With Bach, counterpoint reached its highest point of expression

— it is much less prominent in the work of later composers. This

style of writing has a unique intellectual and aesthetic appeal, aris-

ing from its complexity, structure and detail. Johann died in 1750

due to a stroke.

Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn was born in 1732. Over the course of his 106

symphonies, the Austrian became the principal architect of the

classical style of music.

Haydn was among the creators of the fundamental genres of

classical music and his influence upon later composers is huge.

Haydn’s most celebrated pupil was Ludwig van Beethoven.

Haydn was recruited at the age of eight to sing in the choir at St

Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he went on to learn to play

violin and keyboards.

After he left the choir, he supported himself by teaching and

playing violin while studying counterpoint and harmony.

Haydn is remembered as the first great symphonist and the

composer who essentially invented the string quartet. The princi-

pal engineer of the classical style, Haydn exerted influence on the

likes of Mozart. He died in 1809 aged 77.

OPEC bulletin 5–7/17