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Composers of classical music are normally known by their last name. For example, one very famous composer is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. However, nobody talks about him as Wolfgang. Instead he is simply known as Mozart. Perhaps you have heard of this name before?
After the name, the next most important thing about a composer of classical music is when they lived. This is normally written in parentheses (-) after the composer’s name. For example, we often see Mozart’s name written as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). This means Mozart was born in 1756 and died in 1791. Examples of other things you might see are:
- Philip Glass (1937– ). This means the composer was born in 1937 but is still alive.
- Thomas Tallis (c.1505–1585). The ‘c.’ means that nobody is sure of the exact year, but it’s sometime about then. In other words, nobody know exactly when Tallis was born, but it was about 1505.
It is important to know when a composer lived because different times in history have different musical styles. For example, baroque music is a style of music written between about 1600 and 1750. The more you listen to classical music, the more you will begin to recognise these different styles. If you know when a composer lived, you know what to expect before you hear their music. You will also know what to listen out for.
Another reason for knowing when a composer lived is to understand what was happening in their lives. Understanding history is very important for music. For example, if there was a war on when a composer was alive, this composer might have written music about that war. They might have written about how they felt during the war (one example is Shostakovich). Or they might have written music to celebrate the end of the war (one example is Handel).
The more we understand about a composer’s life, the more we can understand their music. Good music is not just a lovely tune. Good music says something about the deepest feelings and thoughts of the composer. In this way, good music can say something about our own deepest feelings and thoughts as well.
Composers of jazz music are a little more straight-forward. They are often known by both their names, such as Louis Armstrong or Dave Brubeck. It is also important to know when a jazz composer lived—although it is not as important as it is for composers of classical music. Different times do have different styles of jazz. However jazz has only been around about 100 years. It doesn’t have a very long history like classical music.
By the way, composers of jazz music are often called jazz artists. This is because most jazz composers are known for playing their own music. When most people think of a jazz composer they don’t think of the composer writing music. They think of the composer playing music—just like we would think of a rock band. In fact, many jazz artists don’t really write music at all. They simply play other people’s music differently. But a good jazz artist will play the music so differently that they really are making a new piece of music. So I think they should be called ‘composers’ too.
I should say one last thing about composers. Almost all composers of classical music are men. Until very recently there were almost no women composers at all. And there still aren’t very many. Even in jazz, most composers are men.
I don’t know why there are so few women composers. I understand why there might be fewer women than men. But I don’t understand why there have been almost no women composers at all in the past. There have certainly been women writers in the past, and even women artists—but where are the women composers?
So girls, start composing!!! The world needs to hear from you! Here’s a video of some music by a woman composer to encourage you. It’s music by Clara Schumann (wife of Robert Schumann). She is about the only woman composer of classical music from a long time ago that I know of!
First movement of Clara Schumann’s Trio, Op. 17
- Music by Mozart in his own hand writing. This is part of Phantasie für eine Orgelwalze (Fantasy for a Barrel-Organ) in F Minor, K. 608 from 1791. The image is cut from a larger one which is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this larger image, along with the relevant copyright information.
- Trio Debussy – Clara Wieck Schumann Trio in sol minore op.17 1° movimento. Trio Debussy – Concerto al Nuovo Auditorium di Milano – Clara Wieck Schumann Trio in sol minore op.17 1° movimento.