Johann Sebastian Bach has been voted the greatest composer of all time by 174 living composers for BBC Music Magazine’s December 2019 issue.


We asked each of the 174 to name five composers from throughout history who they considered to be the greatest, according to four main criteria: originality, impact, craftsmanship and enjoyability. Among those who voted were Eric Whitacre, Thea Musgrave and John Luther Adams.

The votes were counted for each composer and a list of the top 50 was created, at the head of which was the German Baroque composer. The full list can be found in our December issue, available to buy now, which also shows how each living composer voted.

JS Bach is one of the most well-known classical composers from history and his music is played daily around the world. Born in Eisenach in 1685, he spent most of his career as an organist for churches and royal courts. It was only in the 19th century, when Felix Mendelssohn revived his music, that Bach’s genius as a composer came to be fully recognised.

Bach produced countless masterpieces, including solo keyboard works, cantatas, concertos, oratorios, and solo and orchestral suites. He is renowned for his ingenious technical ability in contrapuntal composition.

Among the others featured in the top 50 are composers from all periods of history, from the 12th-century nun Hildegard von Bingen to Harrison Birtwistle and Kaija Saariaho, who are still composing today.

‘The sheer breadth and depth of our top 50 list proves that today’s composers look to all countries, styles and centuries for inspiration,’ says Oliver Condy, BBC Music Magazine editor.

Here are the magazine’s top 10 composers:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach
  2. Igor Stravinsky
  3. Ludwig van Beethoven
  4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  5. Claude Debussy
  6. Gyorgy Ligeti
  7. Gustav Mahler
  8. Richard Wagner
  9. Maurice Ravel
  10. Claudio Monteverdi

If you want to have your say and choose your greatest composers, why not take part in our Composer World Cup on Twitter?