The history of German music is long and diverse, ranging from Minnesingers (singers of traditional German love songs) and Meistersingers (musicians and poets who continued Minnesingers’ traditions) between 12th and 14th century to contemporary musicians of the most diverse genres. However, in this article we’d like to focus on what we consider the top art music composers of Germany from 1600 until today.
Living in the last part of the Baroque period, Bach was probably the most important composer of this era and the most famous German composer. This keyboard virtuoso and a prolific composer wrote mostly religious pieces. Many of these were lost, but other survived to our times. Among the most important compositions of this genius we can mention Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Mass in B minor, St. Matthew's Passion, and his 209 cantatas.
Living between the Classical and Romantic period, this musician is considered by many to be the first Romantic-era composer and one of the most important German composers. He was a student of Joseph Haydn. He started having hearing problems at his late 20s, and in 1811 he became almost deaf, quit playing piano and conducting and dedicated the rest of his life to composition. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis, and his only opera, Fidelio.
Brahms was a virtuoso pianist and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Even though he was born in Hamburg, he spent almost all his life in Vienna, Austria. Brahms is considered both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is based in the structures and techniques of the Baroque and Classical period masters. He is primarily known for his four symphonies, his Violin Concerto, as well as other piano, organ, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus works.
This composer and organist became famous for his organ music. He is also known for contributing to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue in Germany and Europe. His Canon in D has become very popular as a church song, specially in weddings. Other pieces worth mentioning are Chaconne in F minor, the Toccata in E minor for organ, and the Hexachordum Apollinis.
Telemann was an autodidact composer and multi-instrumentalist who became musician against his family’s wishes. With more than 3,000 compositions (of which about the half was unfortunately lost), he is one of the most prolific composers of Germany and the rest of the world. Wassermusik, Tafelmusik and Quartetto are some of his most important pieces.
The story of Schumann is an example of the Romantic era spirit: this great German musician had to give up his dream of becoming a concert pianist because an injure in his hand. After that, he focused in composing: he left about 150 works, including four complete symphonies. He ended his life in a mental asylum, where he was diagnosed with "psychotic melancholia" Hist most famous pieces are Carnaval, Kinderszenen, Kreisleriana, and his Fantasie in C.
This German composer, theatre director, polemicist and conductor was primarily known for his operas, known as “music dramas” which had librettos written by himself. He revolutionised opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), by which he sought to synthesise the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts. He was aligned with German Nationalism, and his later works were influenced by that. Tristan und Isolde and Tannhauser are among his most famous pieces.
Schubert is another good example of the Romantic spirit. Living only 32 years, he wrote over six hundred secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music. Though he was not really appreciated internationally when he was alive, his music became appreciated after his death. He wrote many famous compositions, including "Der Elkönig", and his eighth, "Unfinished", Symphony.
Born in Eutin, Holstein, von Weber was one of the most important German composers of the early Romantic era. He was also a conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic. He composed what is now considered the first German “nationalist” opera: Euryanthe. He also wrote numerous instrumental pieces, of which the most famous is the piano piece: Invitation to the Dance
This german composer was also a pianist, organist and conductor active during the
early Romantic period. Mendelssohn was born into a notable ethnically Jewish family, although he himself was brought up initially without religion, and later as a Lutheran Christian. His most famous piece is perhaps Wedding March from A Midsummer Night's Dream