10 of the Greatest Austrian Composers of All Time

Last updated

The Austrian music scene has been a huge part of the musical world for hundreds of years. From Mozart to Schubert, these composers have made a lasting impact on classical music all over the globe. Here is a list of some of the greatest Austrian composers who have ever lived:

1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

No list of famous Austrian composers would be complete without mentioning probably the most well-known composer of all time.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on the 27th January 1756 in the Austrian city of Salzburg with the house now a museum.

Baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, he was one of six children but sadly only his sister, Maria Anna survived to adulthood.

As you’d expect by such a prolific composer, Mozart grew up in a musical family with his father, Leopold being a composer, conductor, and violinist.

He even wrote a violin manual that was published in 1756, the same year Wolfgang was born.

Before his composing career, Mozart was a child prodigy on the violin and keyboard and quickly became famous after playing for an audience at age five.

He also composed his first piece at the same age.

He then went on to become one of the most prolific composers of all time composing over 600 pieces of music during his short life span at a rate that would make any modern composer envious.

He wrote over 50 symphonies, 21 operas, 25 piano concertos, and 26 string quartets.

Here’s one of his most well-known compositions, the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major “Rondo Alla Turca.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – ‘Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major: Rondo Alla Turca’

Other notable pieces include Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, his opera the Marriage of Figaro, and his Requiem in D minor.

On the 5th December 1791, at the young age of 35, Mozart sadly died of rheumatic fever.

But, he left behind a legacy that has gone unmatched by other composers and musicians.

2. Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Franz Schubert

Next, we have Franz Peter Schubert, born on the 31st January 1797 in Himmelpfortgrund a suburb of Austria.

Coming from a musical family, Schubert learned to play the violin and piano from his father and the organ from his brother.

He was soon spotted by renowned Italian composer, Antonio Salieri who became his mentor and taught him music theory.

He continued to excel as a musician and composer and at the age of 11 went to study at the Stadtkonvikt school where he studied composers such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

Despite his musical talent, when he was 19 Schubert, began to study law at the University of Vienna, but his heart was set on music so dropped out to finish his 5th symphony.

He went on to compose 12 symphonies, around 20 operas, 20 string quartets, and over 600 lieder, a type of poetry set to music. All in all, it’s said he composed over 1500 pieces.

Here’s one of his most well-known compositions, Ave Maria which he wrote in 1825 sung by Pavarotti.

Franz Peter Schubert – ‘Ave Maria’

Other notable works are his 9th Symphony, the Trout Quintet, and Erlkönig.

Schubert, like Mozart, died in his 30s on the 19th November of typhoid fever although some historians believe he actually died of syphilis.

He was originally buried next to idol Beethoven but was later reburied in the Zentralfriedhof.

But, despite his short life, he too was a prolific composer and left behind a significant legacy.

3. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Gustav Mahler

One of my favorite composers, Gustav Mahler, was born on the 7th July 1860 to a poor Jewish family in Kalište, Bohemia.

He began his musical journey after finding his grandparent’s piano and developing a big interest in it at the young age of 4.

He continued his studies and by the age of 10 was performing at the local town theatre.

He went on to study the piano at the Vienna Conservatory and graduated in 1978.

After that, he went on to study philosophy and literature at university and worked extensively as a conductor.

Due to his extensive work as a conductor, he has quite a limited number of compositional works.

He is probably best known for his orchestral works, such as his 9 symphonies which are widely regarded as some of the most important works produced of the romantic era and were a huge inspiration for later composers.

My favorite work of his is definitely the Adagietto from his 5th symphony and here’s a video of it being performed at the proms.

Gustav Mahler – ‘Symphony No. 5: Adagietto’

Other notable works of his are Das Lied Von Der Erde, his Symphony No. 8 and his Symphony No.2, ‘Resurrection’.

Mahler died on 18 May 1911 of bacterial endocarditis. He had been diagnosed with the disease in 1910, which was a complication for those that have defective heart valves.

His grave is located at Grinzing Cemetery Vienna.

4. Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)

Johann Strauss II

Johann Baptist Strauss II was born in St Ulrich near Vienna on the 25th October 1825.

His father, Johann Strauss the Elder, was also a romantic era composer and was famous for his Waltzes.

But, despite being brought up in a musical family, Strauss had to study the violin secretly as a child as his father didn’t wish a musician’s life for him.

He had lessons with Franz Amon who was the first violinist of his father’s orchestra as well as studying with Joachim Hoffman, Joseph Drechsler, and Anton Kollman.

Despite his father’s discouragement, Johann and his two brothers continued to study music, and eventually, all became light music composers although not to Johann’s fame

Strauss is perhaps best known for his Waltzes and he is often referred to as the Waltz King, as he wrote more than 150 of them.

The most popular of these Waltzes being “The Blue Danube” which has been used in countless movies including 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Johann Baptist Strauss II – ‘The Blue Danube’

Other notable pieces of work by him include the Kaiser-Walzer (Emperor Waltz), Tales from the Vienna Woods, and Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka.

After a long career of composing in which he wrote over 500 pieces, Strauss eventually died of pleuropneumonia at the age of 73 on June 3rd 1899 in Vienna.

He is buried in Zentralfriedhof cemetery along with other notable composers like Schubert.

5. Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn was, known as the father of the symphony, was born on the 31st March 1732 in Rohrau, Austria.

He was one of the world’s most prolific and well-known composers with over 100 symphonies to his name by age fifty.

Haydn had a natural aptitude for music from an early age which only grew as time passed.

His parents realized that he had a special gift and they sent him to school in Hainburg, Austria so he could study with a family relative and train to become a musician.

He studied singing as well as the harpsichord and violin.

After studying he worked lots of music jobs such as a music teacher and accompanist.

Most of his working life was spent as a court musician where we developed his work particular sonata form.

Haydn was prolific in his output of work composing over 100 symphonies, over 70 string quartets, 26 operas among and hundreds of others.

He composed a series of symphonies known as the London Symphonies which are some of his most popular works.

Franz Joseph Haydn – ‘London Symphonies: Symphony No. 104 in D Major’

Other pieces of his to check out are ‘The Creation’, his Trumpet Concerto in Eb, and his Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major.

After a long career, Haydn became ill and his health worsened and he couldn’t compose anymore.

He eventually died on the 31st May 1809 at the age of 77.

6. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna, Austria on 13th September 1874.

He was born into a Jewish family. His mother, Pauline, a piano teacher and his father Samuel was a shopkeeper.

His earliest musical instruction came from his parents but later he studied with another Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinksy.

Schoenberg was a very influential composer in the 20th-century producing works that had a significant impact on many later composers, including Igor Stravinsky and John Cage.

His style of writing is often referred to as expressionist and he is best known for his early development in twelve-tone technique – a compositional technique that involves using all the notes of the chromatic scale.

He also led the second Viennese school which included some of his composition students like Anton Webern and Alban Berg.

Schoenberg was Jewish and being in Austria during the 1930s meant he became a target of the Nazi Party.

In 1933 he moved to the United States and became a citizen in 1941.

Of all his works, which perfectly demonstrates the atonal serialist style and use of the tone row in action is his Variations for Orchestra Op. 31.

Arnold Schoenberg – ‘Variations for Orchestra Op. 31’

Other notable works include The Five Pieces for Orchestra – Op. 16, Erwartung – Op. 17, Verklärte Nacht – Op. 4 and Die glückliche Hand – Op. 18.

Schoenberg was very superstitious and suffered from triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).

He died on Friday the 13th, July 1951 when he was 76 (7+6=13) after staying in bed all day being depressed and sick.

7. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Anton Bruckner

Josef Anton Bruckner was born on the 4th September 1824 in Ansfelden, what is now a suburb Linz, Austria.

The eldest of 11 children, Bruckner was first exposed to music by his father – a schoolmaster and his first music teacher – where he learned the organ.

He went on to become a successful organist and teacher while at the same time studying harmony and counterpoint with Austrian composer Simon Sechter.

Bruckner was described as an “oddball” having quite the fascination with both death and teenage girls.

He was known to keep a picture of his mother’s corpse and lists of young girls that he wanted to marry.

It wasn’t until he was nearly 40 that Bruckner started to dedicate more time to composing.

He is best known for his symphonies which are very large scale and ambitious and a good example of the late-romantic symphonic style of composition.

This style can be seen in his 4th Symphony “The Romantic.”

Anton Bruckner – ‘Symphony No. 4: The Romantic’

A bachelor his whole life, Bruckner was often depressed and unhappy at not finding a wife.

He died on the 11th October 1896 at 72 as is buried at Sankt Florian church in Austria.

8. Marianna Martines (1744-1812)

Marianna Martines

Marianna Martines, born 4th May 1744 was a female Austrian composer from Vienna.

She grew up in a large apartment building where another composer on our list, Joseph Haydn also lived and gave her keyboard lessons as a young child.

Martines, as well as being known for her compositions, was an accomplished singer and also took lessons from Italian composer and singer Nicola Porpora who used Haydn as an accompanist.

Her work as a composer consisted of a number of oratorios and masses as well as pieces for orchestra and cantatas. Perhaps her most well-known work now is her Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Major.

Marianna Martines – ‘Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Major’

She died at the age of 68 on the 13th December 1812 of tuberculosis, two days after her younger sister also passed away.

She’s buried in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna.

9. Anton Webern (1883-1945)

Anton Webern

Anton Friedrich Wilhelm von Webern was born on the 3rd December 1883 in Vienna, Austria.

Although known as an atonal composer of serialism, one of Webern’s early pieces was anything but that.

His composition ‘Im Sommerwind’ was completely different from the later expressionist works he’s most well known for.

Anton Webern – ‘Im Sommerwind’

It wasn’t until he met Schoenberg, who was a teacher of Webern, that he became a member of the Second Viennese School – the name given to Schoenberg’s pupils.

Along with Alban Berg (who we’ll look at next) and a few others, these serialist composers used the twelve-tone system of composition involving tone rows.

Although Webern wrote a lot more, he has 31 opus works that he thought were good enough to be published.

One good example of his serialist work is his Symphonie Op. 21 which he composed in 1928.

Anton Webern – ‘Symphonie Op. 21’

Other pieces of his to check out are Six Pieces for Large Orchestra – Op. 6, Five pieces for Orchestra – Op.10, and Three Little Pieces for Cello and Piano – Op.11.

Tragically, Webern was shot three times on the 15th September 1945 by an American soldier – PFC Raymond Norwood Bell.

Webern’s son-in-law was involved in the black market and during a raid on the house, while Webern was smoking a cigar outside, he was shot and killed.

He was 62 years old.

10. Alban Berg (1885-1935)

Alban Berg

Alban Maria Johannes Berg was a 20th-century Austrian composer, born in Vienna on 9th February 1885 to Johanna and Konrad Berg.

It wasn’t until he was 15 years old that he took to composing, and teaching himself music.

Shortly after in 1904 he met Schoenberg and became a student of his learning music theory, counterpoint, and harmony from him.

As you would expect being a student of Schoenberg, he utilized the twelve-tone technique to create atonal serialist music with one of his first published works being his Piano Sonata Op. 1 written he wrote in 1908 which you can hear below.

Alban Berg – ‘Piano Sonata Op. 1’

Some of his other notable works include ‘Lulu’ (which was finished after he died), his ‘Violin Concerto’, and ‘Lyric Suite’ for string quartet.

Due to his affiliation with Schoenberg (who was Jewish), Berg faced a lot of difficulties during the 1930s with the increasing antisemitism.

Berg’s work was eventually placed on a list of degenerate music and performances in Germany were rare.

He died in 1935 on the 24th December due to blood poisoning that was thought to be from an insect sting and he’s buried in the Hitzing Cemetery in Vienna.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a lot of amazing Austrian composers and this list doesn’t even cover a fraction of them.

Their impact on not only the music community but also the world has been long-lasting.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them and if you want to learn more about these famous Austrian composers, we encourage you to explore and listen to some of their work on YouTube!

Photo of author
Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.