Robert Estrin - piano expert

Who is the Greatest Composer of All Time?

Get an answer to this very simple question

In this video, Robert answers the question, "Who is the greatest composer of all time?" Is there really a single, greatest composer in the world of music?

Released on March 4, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at with a really hard question to answer, and that is, who is the greatest composer of all time? There's many aspects to this question that I want to delve into first, and that is, when you consider innovation versus just the joyful music. For example, if you ever listened to some John Williams scores, some of his motion pictures, they were absolutely fantastic music. They're beautifully crafted, really romantic era style music, but there's wide variety in his scores of different films. They're not all like Star Wars. You've got, was it Catch Me If You Can, I believe is one of his. There's a lot of great music, yet he's not regarded necessarily as one of the great composers of all time as much as one of the great film composers of all time. Why is that? Because he's writing music that could have been written a hundred years ago or longer. There's nothing really new in regards to style and innovation.

How important is innovation in who is the greatest composer? Let's take for example a late 19th century composer like Brahms, one of my favorite composers of all time. But once again, Brahms, his crafting of music was unparalleled, yet there was nothing really groundbreaking other than just the beauty and the innovation of the actual scores, but it could have been written decades earlier. Franz Liszt on the other hand was writing tone poems in the early 1800s. Years, decades before Wagner and Richard Strauss were composing tone poems, so he was a great innovator.

Cutting through all this innovation versus great content, who really then was the greatest composer of all time? Obviously there are composers who are regarded as the greatest composers of all time. Mozart, because of the fine crafting of his music, the turning of a phrase that was just so elegant and perfect that he's on everybody's short list of greatest composers of all time. Not only that, but there's another aspect to this that's really important to talk about, which is the depth of the compositions. I'm not talking about within each piece. I'm talking about a composer like Mozart who wrote choral works, solo piano works, concertos. He wrote flute concertos, he wrote string quartets, he wrote for many different types of ensembles.

I think that's important, because you take a great composer like Frederic Chopin, of course one of my favorites naturally being a pianist, but if you take away Chopin's piano music, you have really not much left of great consequence in his output. So is Chopin one of the greatest composers of all time? He's certainly one of the greatest piano composers of all time. But then again if you really take what composers were able to achieve for the time they compose, if you take a look at Beethoven, now you've got somebody you could really say, my goodness, he took what came before him.

You had Mozart, you had Haydn, two of the great classical era composers as well as many great baroque composers who preceded them. But where he took music and the expansion of the forms, the expansion of the instrument, he worked with instrument builders, piano builders, expanding the instruments. Piano music was written for a very different instrument for early Beethoven, in no small part because of how he worked with the builders, and he also expanded the orchestra. Larger orchestras, larger forms. Instead of three moving symphonies, four movement works in symphonies, concertos, sonatas and chamber music, became much more common in his later works. So I would definitely put Beethoven really high on the list as greatest composers of all time, not because I necessarily prefer his music to some other great composers. Ravel, my goodness, what a great composer and a great innovator who wrote for a very wide range of instrumentation, although not the biggest output.

I'm going to get a lot of different opinions here, and they're all justifiable because ultimately it's like, if you have children and say, who's your favorite child? That's a really tough question to answer, and if you're like most parents you love all your kids for what they bring to the family. I kind of feel that way about composers, but if I really had to pick intellectually, not emotionally, intellectually, Johann Sebastian Bach. When you consider when he lived, born in 1685, and you look at anybody who preceded him, you did have Telemann, a contemporary, George Frideric Handel, wonderful composer, but Bach's output is just mind boggling.

Not only that, but did you know that a great chunk, a good proportion of his music got destroyed and we don't even know what he wrote. Just the body of work that he wrote for keyboard, organ and orchestras, the Brandenburg concertos, his oratorios and masses, the works, the depth and the range of compositions, and considering anything before him, it's mind boggling to think of what Johann Sebastian Bach achieved. So I would have to put Bach on that top of the list personally. Although Beethoven and Ravel and all these other composers are no less great, but in terms of innovation and output and range of composition, it's hard to imagine what Bach was able to achieve such a long time ago.

This is one that we're going to get a lot of comments on. I welcome them because there are many valid viewpoints, and I'm not saying that Bach was the greatest composer of all time, but he's definitely arguably one of the greatest composers of all time for the reasons that I just articulated. I hope this is interesting for you and thought provoking. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at, your online piano store. You're welcome to subscribe and ring the bell. Lots more videos coming your way. See you then.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on March 4, 2020 @5:45 pm PST
I visualise a piramid with a small flat top on which stand Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Wagner and Verdi. Then on the next step down I would put Mozart, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Puccini, etc. Mother would have put Chopin alone at the very top of the ladder.
Robert - host, on March 5, 2020 @11:09 am PST
We're going to need a really big ladder to get to the top of this pyramid. There are so many composers who are going to be on there!
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on March 5, 2020 @5:52 pm PST
I also have a piramid, maybe bigger yet, for every piece of music It does require a rather large platform at the top because I can't make up my mind which one is my top favorite. Definetely the Emperor Concerto, and the Triple Concerto, the Entry of the Gods in Walhalla, Tannhauser's overture, Va Pensiero of Nabucco, and the French horn part of Der Freischutz (not sure I spelled it right).
DR M FRANCOIS DU TOIT on March 4, 2020 @7:40 am PST
I enjoyed it _ thanks.
Robert - host, on March 4, 2020 @12:54 pm PST
It was a tough call to pick just one composer - glad you like!
JJK on March 4, 2020 @5:33 am PST
Another great lecture.
I’m with you Bach tops them all!
John D. Beach * VSM MEMBER * on March 4, 2020 @4:29 am PST
Like the breadth and variety of the noteworthy in the measure of music, the whole equals the sum of its parts!
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