Match the Classical Music Piece to the Composer

Torrance Grey

Image: Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Calling all lovers of classical music: Are you ready to test how well you know your composers? We've got a quiz to help you do just that. If you're a real fan of the genre, you might find this quiz easy to start with  — with questions, for example, about the famous "three B's" — but don't worry, it'll get a bit more challenging as you proceed. We hope we've thrown in a little something for everyone. If you don't know a great deal about classical music, this quiz might inspire you to check some out.

A few things to note about this quiz: First, some of the greatest composers come up more than once as the correct answer. Also, although a lot of composers gave their works numbers, not names (think of Beethoven's "Fifth"), we've stuck as close as possible to named pieces, so things won't get too confusing. After all, more than one composer wrote a "Symphony No. 5." Finally, we were hoping to include more women and composers of color (as it stands, there's one each, a fact that might serve as a hint!), but balanced that with the need to make the quiz accessible to people without a categoric knowledge of classical music. 

Finally, we'd like to tip our hat to the website of "Classic FM" (a companion site to the digital radio station), whose fascinating listicles about composers helped us in researching this quiz!

The "Hallelujah Chorus" is the best-known part of _______'s "Messiah."

What can we say about this piece that hasn't already been said? Well, perhaps this: A number of people would probably tell you that this piece is the triumphant finale to "Messiah," but it's not. It comes at the end of the second act.

You know the four famous notes ("Da da da dummmm!") that lead into his "Fifth Symphony." Of course, he's ...

Beethoven's work is often powerful and dominating in its sound. "Delicate" is not typically a word used to describe his music. However, the great man did make a contribution to chamber music, as well as writing his grand symphonies.

This genius, once a child prodigy, wrote "The Magic Flute" at age 35. Who was he?

Of course, it's Mozart. Both he and his sister Nannerl were prodigies who played the piano in public from an early age. "The Magic Flute" premiered only shortly before Mozart's untimely death from a fever.

This composer, who has a feast day in his honor on the Episcopalian calendar, wrote "The Goldberg Variations." Who is he?

Bach was born into a family of musicians, but surpassed his father and uncles (to say the least). Bach is one of the "three B's" of classical music, and like Beethoven and Brahms, is considered one of the greatest classical composers to ever pick up a pen.

"Rhapsody in Blue" is undoubtedly familiar to you from figure-skating routines and an airline commercial. Who penned it?

The airline in question is United Airlines, and more than one skater has found Gershwin's dreamy, jazzy melody the perfect counterpoint for their axels and camel spins. Gershwin wrote the piece in 1924, and premiered it in New York City. Some people consider "Rhapsody" a love letter to NYC.

Who is the musical genius behind "Clair de Lune"?

"Clair de Lune" is the poetic French term for "moonlight." The piece is part of a larger work by Debussy, "Suite Bergamasque." Perhaps you were lucky enough, about five years ago, to see the charming Google doodle set to "Clair de Lune," showing a little boat proceeding along a river by moonlight.

You'll often hear the serene strains of "_______'s Canon" at weddings and funerals.

We suspect that few people know this, but the piece's full name is "Canon and Gigue for 3 Violins and Basso Continuo." Another little-known fact about this piece: It almost died out, it was so rarely performed in the 19th and early 20th century. However, it had a revival in the late 1960s, and now it's frequently performed at weddings, funerals, garden parties and the like.

Which of these composers created "Also Sprach Zarathustra"?

"Also Sprach Zarathustra" is what half the world thinks of as "that music from '2001: A Space Odyssey.'" Actually, "2001" only used the opening fanfare. To understand where its grandiose sound came from, it helps to understand that "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was inspired by Nietzsche's book of the same name, which is about grand themes like the "ubermensch," or "superman," whom humans should aspire to be.

"Water Music" was composed by a German who wrote mostly in the Baroque style. Who was he?

Handel is better known for "The Messiah," but many classical music lovers are very fond of "Water Music." Divided into three suites, it was written as a royal commission for King George I of England. Not bad work if you can get it!

You know "Ave Maria." But do you know who wrote it?

This gorgeous song is part of a larger work, "Song Cycle from the Lady in the Lake." Nowadays, you'll hear it most often in a religious setting, Christmas Eve services or funerals being two very common occasions.

This composer's "Missa Solemnis" debuted in Russia. Who is he?

"Missa solemnis" is actually a category of ecclesiastical music. It's a musical piece that mirrors the elements of a Latin mass. Other composers have written them, so it is a testament to Beethoven's skill that if you say, simply, "Missa solemnis," a classical-music lover will almost certainly think of Beethoven.

Which of these composers wrote "Appalachian Spring"?

Hey Europe, you want to say to our faces that America has no great composers? Consider Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," a ballet that premiered in 1944 with Martha Graham dancing the lead role. "Appalachian Spring" tells the story of a pioneer couple in the 19th century, in the beginnings of the American expansion westward.

Who wrote the score for the ballet "The Rite of Spring"?

Stravinsky was a 20th-century composer who, as wasn't uncommon for Russian musicians, did a lot of work in ballet. However, "The Rite of Spring" has come to be performed more frequently as a standalone musical piece than it is put on as a ballet.

Born near Warsaw, it's no surprise this composer wrote "Polonaise in A flat major." He is ... ?

A "polonaise" is a classical dance tune in the Polish style; "polonaise" is also the French word for "Polish." Props if you caught us sneaking "George Sand" in as an answer option — she was a French writer, not a composer, and was Chopin's lover for about ten years.

Which of these artists wrote "Standchen," or "Serenade"?

Schubert was a prolific composer who only lived to be 31 years old. We might have more works by this 19th-century prodigy if typhoid fever hadn't claimed him. Fortunately, we have his beloved works, like "Serenade," which are often covered by modern classical artists.

"The Four Seasons" is the best-known work of which composer?

Vivaldi was one of the Baroque composers, of which we've seen quite a few in this quiz. Divided into four "concerti," the overall pieces evokes, as the name suggests, each of the four seasons of they year.

Although we usually think of Beethoven when we think of numbered symphonies, the "Symphony No. 8 in E Flat Major" is the work of _______ another German.

This was the last of Mahler's works to be performed while he was still living. It's an ambitious piece that requires a number of musicians and singers. Sidebar: Mahler's wife Alma was famous in her own right as an artist and artist's muse; a good biography of Gustave Mahler is better appreciated alongside one of Alma.

The "Tragic Overture," or "Tragische Ouverture" in the original German, was written by whom?

Many of Brahms' pieces have numbers, not names, but this one is an exception. He named it for the general quality of the music, the mood he wanted to evoke, not because it had a libretto and told a sad story.

Which of these composers created the still-popular opera "Aida"?

"Aida" tells the story of a beautiful slave (they're always beautiful, aren't they?) in ancient Egypt. She is, secretly, a captured princess from Ethiopia, and there's a love triangle, and ... well, is it any wonder that this opera is popular to this day?

The "Hebrides Overture" was created by which 19th-century composer?

The Hebrides are a cluster of Scottish islands. Mendelssohn wrote the "Hebrides Overture" after visiting Fingal's Cave, a popular tourist destination that has fascinated writers and painters as well as musicians; Mendelssohn's work helped to popularize it.

The composer of "An American in Paris" imported French taxi horns for its early performances. He was ...

Gershwin was in Paris in the 1920s, the same time that it was hosting and inspiring the writers Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, as well as painter Pablo Picasso. Fun fact: Gershwin went to Paris to study with Ravel, one of the other choices above, but Ravel told the young composer he had nothing to teach him. That must have been flattering!

"The Firebird," based on a folktale, was penned by which of these?

"The Firebird" is a ballet based on a Russian fairy tale. It tells the story of a prince who spares the life of a mythical creature, the titular firebird. In exchange, she gives him one of her feathers, which allows him to summon her in a time of need. Does the prince use it? Do you really have to ask?

This composer's "Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65," is one of his few pieces not written for the piano. He is ... ?

A sonata is an instrumental composition in three or four keys. Most of Chopin's were created to be played on the piano. "Cello Sonata in G minor" was the last of his works to be published in his lifetime.

It's sadly appropriate that _____ wrote his "Requiem in D Minor" on his deathbed.

The "Requiem" was not written (ostensibly) about Mozart's own impending death. Rather, it was commissioned by a nobleman in honor of his late wife. Mozart died before he could finish it; the piece was completed by Franz Sussmayr.

Who wrote "Fanfare for the Common Man"?

"Fanfare for the Common Man" was composed by American musician Aaron Copland in the mid-20th century. Fun fact: In keeping with its theme, the symphony conductor who commissioned it, Eugene Goossens, decided to premiere it "at income-tax time." Copland immediately got the significance and approved of the decision.

The "London Symphony No. 104" was this man's last symphony. Who was he?

Haydn was a successful composer in the 17th century. He's also notable for his influence on younger, soon-to-be famous composers like Mozart and Beethoven. He tutored Beethoven, with whom there was a larger age gap than with Mozart.

"Symphonic Dances" is a nostalgic piece by a Russian living in the United States. We're talking about ... ?

Rachmaninoff's life spanned the late 19th and early 20th century. When he wrote "Symphonic Dances," which was partly inspired by his longing for Russia, Rachmaninoff was living in the state of New York. He would die a few years later in California.

His Ninth Symphony was his last, and "samples" the poem "Ode to Joy." We're talking about ... ?

Beethoven was almost entirely deaf when he wrote his last complete symphony. It was rushed into its first performance, which was complicated by Beethoven trying to conduct musicians whom he could not hear, but it nonetheless stands as one of the greatest achievements in classical music.

"Mass in B Minor" was one of the works of this composer in the Baroque style. He was ... ?

Bach was Lutheran, and composed music for Lutheran services, so it was unusual that he tackled a "Mass," which reflects the Latin rite.. But Bach, with typical virtuosity, wrote a piece that overshadows many written by lesser musicians more familiar with the Catholic faith.

"Va, pensiero," from the opera "Nabucco," was written by which musical genius?

"Va, pensiero" is also known as the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves," because "Nabucco" is about the Jews' captivity in Babylon, events recollected in the Biblical books of Daniel and Jeremiah. Confused about the name? It's short for "Nabucodonosor," or "Nebuchadnezzar," the Babylonian king.

Which of these composers gave us the "Symphonie Fantastique?"

Berlioz wrote this piece after falling in unrequited love with an actress, Harriet Smithson. Well, it was unrequited at first. As almost never happens with fans who send a barrage of love letters, the actress Harriet Smithson eventually did meet Berlioz, and then married him. However, the marriage didn't last. (Who could have predicted that?)

The writer of "Symphony Op. 11 in D minor" is often known as "Chevalier du St. Georges." What was his given name?

Joseph Bologne was the son of a plantation owner and a slave; he grew up to write a number of classical works and direct a symphony. He was a contemporary of Mozart, and Mozart's jealousy might even have inspired a bad-guy character, an African named "Monostatos," in "The Magic Flute."

"Glass Houses" wasn't composed by Philip Glass. Instead, it's the work of ...

"Glass Houses" is a series of piano pieces written by the Canadian composer. Southam isn't a terribly well-known name, but we wanted to include a female composer in this quiz at least once. Women haven't made nearly the inroads into classical music composition that they have in other areas of the arts. Here's hoping the 21st century will change that!

This Russian wrote the "1812 Overture" in honor of his nation's defense against Napoleon's army. Who is he?

Tchaikovsky might be the Russian composer who had the most "crossover" success into the European/Western canon. The other three composers listed above, for example, were contemporaries of Tchaikovsky, but they haven't become household names the way he did.

A 20th-century British composer, ______ wrote "Peter Grimes" and "War Requiem."

Over his long career, Britten wrote operas, orchestral pieces and chamber music. "War Requiem" was written for the opening of the new cathedral in Coventry, England, where the 14th-century cathedral was destroyed by an air raid in WWII.

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