Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was a painstaking composer, completing fewer pieces than many of his contemporaries. Despite this, he was recognized in his lifetime as France’s greatest living composer. Each movement in Le Tombeau de Couperin is dedicated to a friend of Ravel who was killed in World War I – though its tone is far from somber. Ravel himself explained the light, dancing melodies in his memorial suite by saying, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence.”
Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is one of the most acclaimed American composers, and Adagio for Strings is perhaps his best known work. A deeply emotional work, Barber subtly shifts the time signatures throughout, creating hesitation and suspension in the sweeping melodies.
William Walton (1902-1983) made a name for himself early in his career as an avant garde composer. Criticism of his early works included terms such as “drivel” and “relentless cacophony”, though he quickly gained appreciation and his music soon became popular. Often compared to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches, Walton’s Crown Imperial March was first performed at the coronation of King George VI, and again at the coronation of Elizabeth II.
One of the most recognized and influential composers of all time, Ludiwg van Beethoven (1770-1827) began to lose his hearing by his thirtieth birthday. While living in Heiligenstadt, Austria, in 1802, he attempted to come to terms with the affect his affliction would have on his life and career. Upon his return to Vienna, Beethoven debuted a bold shift in his musical style. Symphony No. 3, the first major work of this period, remains one of his most beloved and celebrated works. The symphony was initially dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Beethoven believed embodied the democratic ideals of the French revolution. Beethoven scratched out the dedication at the bequest of a patron, but insisted the work was titled “Buonaparte” in his honor. Reportedly, once Bonaparte declared himself Emperor, Beethoven became so enraged he tore the title page of the symphony in half. The title was subsequently changed to “Sinfonia Eroica”, or “Heroic Symphony”.