Top 10 Baroque Period Composers
The music of the Baroque Period is even more popular today than it was in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was written. We now have instant access to a nearly infinite catalog of music and Baroque’s unique musical style continues to enchant and delight millions of listeners each year.
What is so fascinating about Baroque music? It was innovative, a time when composers experimented with instruments as well as polyphonic textures and forms. The word “baroque” actually stems from the Italian word barocco, meaning “bizarre.” It really is no wonder that it remains appealing to modern audiences.
The composers of the Baroque period include many notable names. From Bach to Sammartini, each composer on this list greatly influenced the shape and course of classical music. Keep in mind, though, that this is a short list of the best-known and most influential composers of the era. There are others whose legacy also had a great impact on the future and evolution of music.
Coming in at number one is Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), one of the best-known of all composers in classical music.
Bach was born into one of the great musical families of the day. A natural genius at the keyboard, he mastered the organ and harpsichord and was simply a brilliant composer. Bach brought baroque music to its climax, writing over 1,000 compositions in nearly every type of musical form.
Popular Works: “Air on a G String,” “Double Violin Concerto,” “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3,” “B Minor Mass,” “The Unaccompanied Cello Suites”
Born in the same year as Bach in a town 50 miles away, George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), who later became a British citizen, lead a much different life than Bach.
Handel, too, composed for every musical genre of his time. He is credited with creating the English oratorio, most famous among these was “Messiah.” Handel also specialized in operas and often took on the Italian-style cantatas.
Popular Works: “(The) Messiah,” “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” “Water Music”
Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) was an Italian teacher, violinist, and composer. Corelli’s mastery of tone on the newly invented violin earned him great reviews throughout Europe. He is often credited as the first person to create basic violin technique.
Corelli worked during the time of expressive opera known as High Baroque. He is equally famous for his harpsichord compositions and his talent with the violin.
Popular Works: “Concerto Grossi,” “Christmas Concerto,” “Sonata da camera in D Minor”
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) wrote over 500 concertos and is believed to have invented ritornello form in which a theme returns throughout the piece. Known as a virtuoso violinist and prolific composer, Vivaldi often held the title of Maestro de’ Concerti (director of instrumental music) at Vienna’s Ospedale della Pieta.
His influence was felt throughout the later years of the Baroque Period. However, much of Vivaldi’s music lay “undiscovered” until the early 1930s. This newly identified music earned Vivaldi the title, “The Viennese Counterpart to Bach and Handel.”
Popular Works: “The Four Seasons,” “Gloria,” “Con Alla Rustica in G”
George Philipp Telemann
A good friend of both Bach and Handel, George Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) was also a distinguished musician and composer of his time. He, too, appeared in the latter part of the Baroque Period.
Telemann’s incorporation of unusual instrumentation in his concertos is one of the things that that made him unique. His church music is most notable. As a music teacher, he was known for organizing students and offering concerts to the public.
Popular Works: “Viola Concerto in G,” “Trio Sonata in C Minor,” “(The) Paris Quartets”
Within a lifetime of only 36 years, Henry Purcell (1659–1695) achieved musical greatness. He was considered one of England’s greatest composers and the most original composer of his time.
Purcell was extremely talented in word-setting and composed very successful works for the stage. His chamber music of suites and sonatas, as well as compositions for the church and courts, also helped establish his name in music history.
Popular Works: ”Dido & Aeneas,” “The Fairy Queen,” “Sound the Trumpet”
Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) was the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, another well-known baroque composer. The younger Scarlatti wrote 555 known harpsichord sonatas, over half of which were written in the last six years of his life.
Scarlatti made use of Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish dance rhythms throughout many of his works. He was also admired by his contemporaries and influenced many, including the Portuguese keyboard composer, Carlos de Seixas.
Popular Works: “Essercizi per Gravicembalo” (Sonatas for Harpsichord)
A French composer and music theorist, Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) was known for music with bold melodic lines and harmonies. This caused controversy, particularly from those who preferred the styles of either Jean-Baptiste Lully or Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.
Aside from harpsichord, Rameau’s greatest contribution to music was in tragédie lyrique opera. His wide use of moods and musical colors in these French lyrical tragedies were beyond those of his counterparts.
Popular Works: “Hippolyte et Aricie and Castor et Pollux,” “Trait,” “Les Indes Galantes”
Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706) taught music to Johann Christoph Bach, J.S. Bach’s older brother. The elder Bach said that his brother greatly admired Pachelbel’s music and many people see stylistic similarities between the two.
Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” is his most famous work and you can hear it to this day in countless wedding ceremonies. And yet, the respected organ teacher’s influence stretches far beyond the chapel. His influence on Baroque music led to the success of many of these other composers.
Popular Works: “Canon in D Major” (aka Pachelbel Canon), “Chaconne in F Minor,” “Toccata in C Minor for Organ”
Giovanni Battista Sammartini
Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700–1775) specialized in the oboe and organ and the Italian also worked as a composer, teacher, and choirmaster. He took over the Baroque scene later in the period and his influence stretched into the Classical Period.
Sammartini is one of the earliest composers of the symphony and 68 of these revolutionary works have survived. Many believe his symphonic pieces and thematic development are the precursors to Haydn and Mozart.
Popular Works: “Sonata No. 3,” “Recorder Sonata in A Minor”