10 Best Instrumental Composers

These 10 best instrumental composers have never been on "American Bandstand" or "Soul Train," but they're great composers in the classical tradition and well worth checking out. Some of these composers have worked with rock stars. One composer mainly uses sitar, while another composes on synthesizer. Therefore, there's a lot a variety among these ten fine composers.

  1. John Adams John Adams is a minimalist composer. He may best be known for the opera "Nixon in China," which explored Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. In his sound, you'll hear repeating patterns. However, there are also touches of Romanticism in his work.
  2. John Zorn Zorn is not just an avant-garde composer, he's also a producer and multi-instrumentalist. He's open to exploring many types of music. For instance, he's performed punk-jazz with group Naked City and klezmer-style sounds with Masada.
  3. John Williams Soundtrack music is sometimes like the Rodney Dangerfield of composition in that it doesn't always get a lot of respect. However, the music to "Jaws" and "Star Wars" is excellent music, not just movie music. John Williams composed both of these soundtracks and more. This man deserves more respect for his place as one of the ten best instrumental composers.
  4. Ravi Shankar Shankar is considered the modern master of the sitar. He may have already been one of the ten best instrumental composers, but he didn't truly become famous until he forged a friendship and partnership with George Harrison of the Beatles. For many, the sitar is an acquired taste. But once you get that taste, it sure tastes good.
  5. Terry Riley Riley learned at the feet of Pandit Pran Nath, a master of Indian classical music. Nath also mentored La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela. He's most closely associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music.
  6. Steve Reich Reich was a technological innovator, as well as a composer. This is because he perfected tape loops in order to make phasing patterns in his compositions. He won a Grammy for "Different Trains."
  7. Ennio Morricone This Italian composer is best known for his movie soundtracks. Yet these films were set in the Old West and were termed "Spaghetti Westerns." The common man is as familiar with his work as he is with John Williams', whether he realizes it or not.
  8. Meredith Monk At last, a women among the ten best instrumental composers! You may have heard her work in the Coen Brothers' "The Big Lebowski" and/or Jean-Luc Godard's "Nouvelle Vague."
  9. Philip Glass Critics of Glass label him a minimalist, but he prefers to refer to his work as music with repetitive structures. But to the common ear, it sure sounds like minimalist music. He's better known than other composers because he's also worked with rock stars like David Byrne, Patti Smith and Paul Simon.
  10. Wendy Carlos You could say Wendy Carlos is the second woman on the list. However, Carlos began her life as Walter Carlos, a man. Carlos composes on synthesizer and is famous for creating the soundtrack to "A Clockwork Orange."
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