Back in the day, it was natural for composers like Beethoven and Bach to play an instrument on a very professional level. Oftentimes, these composers would also perform their own music. But nowadays, things are different. Professionals dig deeper into specializing in every field of work. As a result, it’s becoming less common for composers to be known as active and great musicians, too.
However, there are quite a few names who are still successfully combining their composing with high level musicianship. Of course, all or at least most composers have played one or more instruments throughout their careers (although not on a professional level). I myself was a very promising trumpet player. Unfortunately, I had to give that up and focus on music composition due to a physical condition I was struggling with.
These days, computers and various electronics become the instrument of choice for many younger composers. It’s a common sight to be on the stage with other musicians in your own music, handling the computers, mixing, etc. There are many reasons why a composer focuses only on writing. For instance, they may simply lack interest in performing, or struggle with a busy lifestyle. They may also spend the majority of their time teaching others.
So, now is the perfect time to get to this week’s list. There are lots of composers who are considered great musicians, teachers, writers and various other things in the music field. But for now, we’ll be focusing on the musicians. Conducting counts, too!
List of great composers who’ve made it as great musicians
List is in alphabetical order.
- Still alive
- Thomas Adès – pianist and conductor
- Brett Dean – violist and conductor
- Peter Eötvös – conductor
- Philip Glass – pianist
- Heinz Holliger – oboist
- György Kurtag – pianist
- Magnus Lindberg – pianist
- Max Richter – pianist, electronics
- Stever Reich – percussionist
- Terry Riley – keyboards
- Esa-Pekka Salonen – conductor
- Michael Tilson Thomas – conductor
- Eric Whitacre – conductor
- Passed away in or after 1945
- Bela Bartok – pianist
- Leonard Bernstein – pianist and conductor
- Pierre Boulez – conductor
- Benjamin Britten – conductor, pianist
- Aaron Copland – conductor
- Marcel Dupré – organist
- Paul Hindemith – violist, conductor
- Bruno Maderna – conductor
- Olivier Messiaen – organist
- Sergei Prokofiev – pianist, conductor
- Dmitri Shostakovich – pianist
- Igor Stravinsky – pianist, conductor
There you have it. I could’ve included many more great musicians, but this is a good start. All the names above are associated with both composing and performing. As always, let me know if you think someone should be added to the list!