Top 10 Romantic composers (updated 2021)
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
The Romantic period was one of the most innovative in music history, characterised by lyrical melodies, rich harmonies, and emotive expression.
Hector Berlioz (1803-69)
The arch-Romantic composer, Berlioz’s life was all you’d expect – by turn turbulent and passionate, ecstatic and melancholic.
Essential recording Les Troyens
Sols incl DiDonato, Spyres, Lemieux; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra / John Nelson (Gramophone's 2018 Recording of the Year) Read the review
Explore further Hector Berlioz: music's great revolutionary (Tim Ashley is joined by four great advocates of the composer to celebrate the self-taught, revolutionary musician whose eccentric genius is only now being fully recognised)
Fryderyck Chopin (1810-49)
Few composers command such universal love as Chopin; even fewer still have such a high proportion of all their music in the active repertoire. Yet he is the only great composer who wrote no symphonies, operas, ballets or choral works. His chief claim to immortality relies not on large scale works but on miniature forms.
Essential recording Piano Concertos No 1 & 2
Martha Argerich pf Montreal Symphony Orchestra / Charles Dutoit (winner of the Gramophone Concerto Award in 1999)
Explore further The 10 greatest Chopin pianists (Stephen Plaistow recalls the illustrious recorded history of Chopin's oeuvre and offers a personal view of great Chopin interpreters)
Robert Schumann (1810-56)
Schumann is a key figure in the Romantic movement; none investigated the Romantic’s obsession with feeling and passion quite so thoroughly as him. Schumann died insane, but then some psychologists argue that madness is a necessary attribute of genius.
Essential recording Symphonies Nos 1-4
Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Yannick Nézet‑Séguin (Editor's Choice, May 2014) Read the review
Explore further Schumann's symphonies – building a fantasy world (Philip Clark explores why Simon Rattle, Heinz Holliger, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Robin Ticciati are immersing themselves in Schumann's highly individual sound world)
Franz Liszt (1811-86)
Composer, teacher, Abbé, Casanova, writer, sage, pioneer and champion of new music, philanthropist, philosopher and one of the greatest pianists in history, Liszt was the very embodiment of the Romantic spirit. He worked in every field of music except ballet and opera and to each field he contributed a significant development.
Essential recording 'Transcendental: Daniil Trifonov plays Franz Liszt'
Daniil Trifonov pf (Recording of the Month, October 2016; shortlisted for Instrumental Award 2017) Read the review
Explore further Top 15 Liszt recordings
Richard Wagner (1813-83)
No composer has had so deep an influence on the course of his art, before or since. Entrepreneur, philosopher, poet, conductor, one of the key composers in history and most remarkable men of the 19th century, Wagner knew he was a genius. He was also an unpleasant, egocentric and unscrupulous human being.
Essential recording Parsifal
Sols incl Jess Thomas, George London, Hans Hotter; Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra / Hans Knappertsbusch
Explore further The Gramophone Collection: Wagner's Ring (Can any one reading of Wagner’s epic operatic cycle ever satisfy the demands of its huge audiences? Mike Ashman visits the musical immortals and the younger gods of today to deliver his verdict on the complete Ring on record)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Verdi was never a theoretician or academic, though he was quite able to write a perfectly poised fugue if he felt inclined. What makes him, with Puccini, the most popular of all opera composers is the ability to dream up glorious melodies with an innate understanding of the human voice, to express himself directly, to understand how the theatre works, and to score with technical brilliance, colour and originality.
Essential recording Aida
Sols incl Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann, Ekaterina Semenchuk; Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Antonio Pappano (winner of the 2016 Gramophone Opera Award; Recording of the Month, Awards issue 2015) Read the review
Explore further Verdi's Otello: a guide to the best recordings (The past eight decades have seen many recordings of this tenor-led operatic masterpiece. Trawling through them all, Richard Lawrence finds at least three very special Otellos, and some electric conducting)
Anton Bruckner (1824-96)
Bruckner’s reputation rests almost entirely with his symphonies – the symphonies, someone said, that Wagner never wrote.
Essential recording Symphony No 9
Lucerne Festival Orchestra / Claudio Abbado (Gramophone's 2015 Recording of the Year) Read the review
Explore further Top 10 Bruckner recordings
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Whatever the atmosphere he wanted to create, Puccini’s sound world is unique and unmistakeable with its opulent yet clear-cut orchestration and a miraculous fund of melodies with their bittersweet, tender lyricism. His masterly writing for the voice guarantees the survival of his music for many years to come.
Essential recording Tosca
Sols incl Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi; Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Milan / Victor de Sabata Read the review
Explore further Giacomo Puccini homepage
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-93)
Tchaikovsky is the most popular of all Russian composers, his music combining some nationalist elements with a more cosmopolitan view, but it is music that could only have been written by a Russian. In every genre he shows himself to be one of the greatest melodic fountains who ever lived.
Essential recording Symphony No 6, Pathétique
MusicAeterna / Teodor Currentzis (Recording of the Month, January 2018) Read the review
Explore further The 50 greatest Tchaikovsky recordings
Johannes Brahms (1833-97)
One of the giants of classical music, Brahms appeared to arrive fully armed, found a style in which he was comfortable – traditional structures and tonality in the German idiom – and stuck to it throughout his life. He was no innovator, preferring the logic of the symphony, sonata, fugue and variation forms.
Essential recording Symphonies
Gewandhaus Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly (Gramophone's 2014 Recording of the Year) Read the review
Explore further The 50 best Brahms albums