Good 20th Century Composers

There are so many out there that make me want to plug my ears, take Charles Ives. I’m pretty sure that nobody actually enjoys listening to Charles Ives, but they say they do so they can sound sophisticated.

I’ll go first. Aaron Copland. It’s very melodic but at the same time exciting and a lot of fun to listen to.

cannot think of any

There are many very good 20th century composers. Consider the following:
Arvo Part (I think many CAFers will appreciate his religious music)
Dimitri Shostakovitch
**Aram Kachaturian **(remember the Saber Dance?)
**George Gershwin **
Leonard Bernstein
Arnold Schoenberg (an acquired taste, like Charles Ives)
Sergi Rachmaninov
Hector Villa-Lobos
For those with more catholic (small c) tastes
**Duke Ellington **(not only can he write music but he can swing)
Charles Mingus
Paul Horn (for his Jazz Mass)
I could go on but these will show the richness of 20th century music.

Oh I love Shostakovich, I didn’t even know he was 20th c, I thought he was 19th. Aram Kachaturian, yes the Sabre Dance always makes me smile. :slight_smile:

Gershwin is good, I love Fascinating Rythym in particular (it gets stuck in my head), when it’s done by Fred Astaire. However, I could consider that more “pop” than classical- what do you think?

It makes me wonder if you can strictly draw a line between pop and classical in the early 20th c. For example, listen to Debussy’s “Golliwog Cakewalk” and you’d almost think you’re listening to Gershwin.

Who counts as 20th century is an issue. I take a loose definition–they could have written in the late 19th century but continued to write into the 20th and died in the 20th. By the way, I can’t believe I forgot** Igor Stravinsky **and Maurice Ravel.

By the way, Gershwin is both a tune-smith and a classical composer. I love An American in Paris.

Don’t forget the British–

Benjamin Britten
Gustav Holst (The Planets, anyone?) and my favorite,
Ralph Vaughan Williams.

RVW is best known for his Fantasias on Greensleeves and Thomas Tallis, but also has a lovely repertoire of symphonies, orchestral pieces (look for The Lark Ascending) and choral pieces.

(the music major who wrote her senior thesis on RVW’s 4th symphony… :slight_smile: )

The little known and underappreciated Frank Martin.

David Diamond

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Henri Mancini

John Adams

John Williams

Pierre Boulez

Elliot Carter

Augusta Reed Thomas

Henryk Gorecki

Maurice Ravel

Erno Dohnanyi

Ottorino Respighi

Carl Nielsen

Jean Sibelius

Ralph Vaughn Williams

Zoltan Kodaly

Arnold Bax

Heitor Villa-Lobos

Manuel DeFalla

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Francis Poulenc

Joaquin Rodrigo

Olivier Messiaen

Samuel Barber

Henri Dutileux

Kryzstof Penderecki

John Tavener

John Rutter

Osvaldo Golijov

Jester Hairston

I’ve thought for some years that the best classical composer (well, American classical composer) of the 20th century is John Williams.


Ennio Morricone

LOL – that was my first thought.

But seriously:

technically most of these are turn of the century composers, but ones not mentioned above with many works IN the 20th century:


Hmm, well that’s it for me. Call me narrow-minded, but truth is, the few others i have sampled turned me off.

Paul McCartney

Brian Wilson

Paul Simon

Composing IS composing.



I didn’t see anyone mention Samuel Barber or Ottorino Respighi, a bunch of good russians, including Prokoffiev

I assume you mean classical music?

Igor Stravinsky
Dmitri Shostakovitch
Olivier Messiaen
Grygory Ligeti
Steve Reich
Philip Glass
Arnold Shoenburg
Bela Bartok
Claude Debussy
Maurice Ravel
Richard Strauss
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Bernard Hermann


Honestly, he was the first one I thought of! :smiley:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit