BBC Music Magazine asked 174 composers to name the five composers they thought were the greatest of all time. The results had fallen, and we had our list of 50. JS Bach unsurprisingly came out on pole, but behind him was a line-up of composers who still create music today.
The best living composers
Kaija Saariaho (born 1952)
Anna Thorvaldsdottir said of Kaija Saariaho: ‘She is one of the monumental composers of our time. I think the powerful presence of her music over the years has been particularly important as a role model for the younger generations, especially for young women in music who find inspiration and encouragement in such a compelling composer.
Read our reviews of Kaija Saariaho’s recordings here.
Steve Reich (born 1936)
Stewart Copeland said of Steve reich: ‘He could be considered the savior of modern classical music. Reich himself started out with a high intellectual concept, but then landed on something that took him in a different direction: simple beauty. ‘
Read our reviews of Steve Reich’s recordings here.
Philip Glass (b1937)
Oliver Davis said of Philip Glass: “Despite the extremely varied styles of Philippe Glass‘s over the years, as soon as you hear his music, you instantly know it can’t be anyone else: his harmonic language is so distinctive and he has an extraordinary gift for melody.’
Read our reviews of Philip Glass’s recordings here.
Harrison Birtwistle (b1934)
Eleanor Alberga said of Harrison Birtwistle: “Her music speaks with a voice totally her own. The never-ending reinvention and development as his music unfolds, along with the intensity of the contrapuntal textures, takes the ear on a totally unpredictable but still completely immersive journey.
Read our reviews of Harrison Birtwistle’s recordings here.
Stephen Sondheim (born 1930)
Paul Mealor says of Stephen Sondheim: “Of the most intense and brilliant large-scale dramatic structures (such as Sweeney todd Where Assassins) to the lightest of melodies (A little night music), and the simplest of chords (In the woods) to the densest harmonies (Follies), he has everything. He is intelligent without deceiving us and never “writes” to us.
Find out who else was on our list of 50 greatest composers of all time here.