Top 10 Unsuccessful Composers

Success can be defined as an accomplishment someone aims or has aimed to achieve. Success can be measured qualitatively in numbers as well as quantitatively through praise. Many composers throughout history have lacked success. Mozart for instance is renowned today for his work, despite the opposite during his time.

Here are 10 examples of composers who did not reach success in their careers.


1. Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote 600 compositions during his short 35 years on earth, including 41 symphonies. He began composing and playing music at the age of 5. He traveled throughout Europe, playing music for royalties and the nobles since he was 6.

Throughout his life Mozart was not celebrated as much as he is today. He died penniless and left his friends and family in considerable debt. This was because he spent more money than he was earning. As was common at the time, he had a simple burial in an unmarked grave.


2. Franz Schubert

Schubert only lived for 31 years. Despite the short life, he composed a total of 1000 compositions. The man was shy and not appreciated until decades after he had died. He was also often rejected by schools including Gessellschaft der Musikfreunde and Kappelmeister at Laibach.


3. Antonio Salieri:

Many remember this composer’s name in the film Amadeus. The composer was indeed a rival of Mozart. Salieri was a Venetian classical composer, conductor and teacher. He was also a loyal subject to the Habsburg monarch. In 1774, he was appointed to the position of director of Italian opera by the Habsburg court, a position he held until 1792.

His reputation disappeared in 1800s. No one heard of him until 20th century.


4. George Bruns:

Many children and also teenagers love watching Pirates of the Carribean. The plot is fantastic and the music is riveting. Hardly anyone knows who is behind the music. George Bruns is the name and he was a multi-instrumental and virtuoso tubaist. Throughout his lifetime he worked with many bands and studios, most notably Walt Disney Studios. He worked to compose the megahit for Sleeping Beauty.


5. Dmitri Shostakovitch

Shostakovitch was largely unrecognized for his achievements as a composer. Specifically in 1948, he and many other composers were criticized for formalism in the Zhdanov decree. He was believed to have written inappropriate music which was “Western”.

What many do not realize is that he was a mixture of everything we heard in the past from Bach to Beethoven to Mahhler to Berg. Many of his symphonies were musically conservative as well.


6. Modest Mussorgsky:

Towards the end of Mussorgsky’s life came a decline in his achievements. The decline was quite apparent, especially with the breakup of Balakirev circle. Mussorgsky became bitten, becoming mad and turning to drinking as a result. It is thus not surprising why many of his works were known in versions as they were completed by other composers.


7. Robert Schumann:

We now regard Schumann as one of the most famous musicians in the Romantic era. During his time he was not as widely recognized or successful. He received little honour for his work and was little known to many music lovers. One time he was asked whether he was a musician as well when he accompanying his wife on a tour in Russia. After 1850, his work deteriorated as did his mental health. Given his attempted suicide in 1854, he was confined to a mental institution.


8. Heinrich Berté:

Berté began unsuccessfully in his career as a composer of ballets and operas. His first performance was on January 15, 1916, at the age of 57.


9. Pyotr Tchaikovsky:

This is an example of someone who had fame but did not appreciate it. Tchaikovsky was emotionally unstable and was prone to depressive thoughts. This significantly weakened his career as a composer when he was still alive.


10. Vicent d’Indy:

He was a French composer during the modern as well as Romantic era. His pieces are really good, traditional yet tonal. During his era many of his performances were sandwiched between stronger composers such as Brahms. Today not many of his compositions are heard. He has not made a lasting effect like Debussy, Brahms, Irving etc.


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