BBC Music Magazine asked 174 composers to name the five composers they thought to be the greatest of all time. The results were in, and we had our list of 50. JS Bach unsurprisingly came out in pole position, but behind him were a line-up of composers who are still creating music today.

The best living composers

Our original poll featured five (then-)living composers. Sadly, of those five, Stephen Sondheim and Harrison Birtwistle, are no longer with us. We continue to toast the lasting good health, though, of:

Kaija Saariaho (b1952)

Anna Thorvaldsdottir said of Kaija Saariaho: 'She is one of the monumental composers of our time. I feel that the powerful presence of her music over the years has been particularly important as a role model for younger generations, not least for younger women in music that find inspiration and encouragement in such a compelling composer.'

Read our reviews of Kaija Saariaho's recordings here.

Steve Reich (b1936)

Stewart Copeland said of Steve Reich: 'He could be regarded as the saviour of modern classical music. Reich himself started with intellectual high concept, but then landed on something that allowed him to take a different direction: simple beauty.'

Read our reviews of Steve Reich recordings here.

Philip Glass (b1937)

Oliver Davis said of Philip Glass: 'Despite the extremely varied styles of Philip Glass’s output over the years, as soon as you hear his music you instantly know it couldn’t be anyone else: his harmonic language is that distinctive and he has an extraordinary gift for melody.'

Read our reviews of Philip Glass recordings here.

Find out who else was featured in our list of the 50 greatest composers of all time here.


Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.