Scroll below to find a comprehensive list of some of the most well-known classical guitar composers. But, if you’re new to classical guitar and wondering who you should listen to first, here’s my personal favorite top 5 guitar composers to help you get started:
- Francisco Tárrega
- Agustín Barrios
- Heitor Villa-Lobos
- Mauro Giuliani
- Fernando Sor
*It’s important to note that some of the following composers–including J.S. Bach, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, and Manuel de Falla–wrote music for instruments other than guitar, such as lute, vihuela, cello, or piano. The music of J.S. Bach and Isaac Albéniz is some of the most popular (and in my opinion most beautiful) in the guitar repertoire. However, because their music has only been popularized on guitar through arrangements, I’ve decided not to include them on my above shortlist of “Top 5 guitar composers”.
List of Classical Guitar Composers (sorted alphabetically by last name):
Anido, Mariá Luisa
Bach, Johann Sebastian*
Falla, Manuel de*
Mertz, Johann Kaspar
Sagreras, Julio Salvador
Torroba, Federico Moreno
Weiss, Silvius Leopold*
Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849)
Dionisio Aguado y García was a classical guitarist and composer during the late classical and early Romantic periods. He was born in Madrid, Spain and lived in Paris in 1826 where he befriended Fernando Sor. You can learn more about Dionisio Aguado and examples of his guitar music here.
Issac Albéniz (1860-1909)
One of the most beloved Spanish post-Romantic era composers is Isaac Albéniz (born Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual). Albéniz was a virtuoso pianist, conductor and composer. You can learn more about Isaac Albéniz and see examples of his guitar music here.
Mariá Luisa Anido (1907-1996)
Argentinian guitarist and composer Mariá Luisa Anido incorporated various Argentinian folk music techniques in her playing and compositions, such as mixed meter (3/4 time in the bass and 6/8 time in the melody). She studied guitar with Miguel Llobet in Spain, who praised her compositional style. You can learn more about Mariá Anido and see examples of her work here.
Julián Arcas (1832-1882)
In my opinion Julián Arcas is one of the most underrated classical guitar composers. Not only was he Tárrega’s guitar teacher, but Arcas also helped the infamous Antonio Torres develop guitar construction techniques that revolutionized the sound of the instrument as we know it today. You can learn more about Julián Arcas and see examples of his work here.
Sérgio Assad (b. 1952)
Brazillian guitarist, composer, and arranger Sérgio Assad often performs with his brother Odair Assad. Assad is currently on faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and his compositions have become standards in the guitar repertoire.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Many feel J.S. Bach is the most profound composer of all time. His compositional style, particularly in regards to polyphony and voice leading, became the foundation for music theory as we know it today. Bach arrangements for classical guitar are some of the most popular in the repertoire, and also the most demanding in terms of technique finesse, phrasing, and articulation.
Agustín Barrios (1885-1944)
Paraguayan composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré (known by several names) was one of the most prolific composers for guitar, as well as a virtuoso performer. Barrios drew upon Paraguayan folk music influences early on, which he incorporated into his compositional diverse style. From bold luscious chords with swooping melodies, to lightening fast melodic runs with complex rhythmic structures, the music of Barrios has something to offer everyone. You can learn more about Barrios and hear examples of his work here.
Leo Brouwer (b. 1939)
Cuban composer Leo Brouwer is well-known for his Estudios Sencillos (‘Etudes Simples’) although some of these aren’t really ‘simple’ at all! Brouwer’s compositional style transformed from Cuban-inspired rhythms, to the more style of abstract aleatoric music, and finally to a style rooted with greater tonality and consonance.
Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853)
Itallian classical guitarist Matteo Carcassi lived most of his life in Paris, and made a living as a touring concert guitarist. Carcassi’s 25 Studies, Op. 60 is a set of etudes that blend technical exercises with romantic melodic themes. This collection of etudes is essential for guitarists moving from the beginner, to intermediate, to advanced stages, and ones that nearly all classical guitar students are familiar with.
Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841)
Ferdinando Carulli was a prolific composer, writing over 400 compositions for the guitar, including his influential Méthode complète pour guitare ou lyre, Op.27–a book that’s still referenced in guitar pedagogy today.
Napoléon Coste (1805-1883)
French classical guitarist and composer Napoléon Coste studied under Fernando Sor. With the demand of classical guitar performance declining, he self-published many of his compositions, several of which are still commonly performed today.
Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947)
Italian classical guitarist Carlo Domeniconi draws from many world music styles in his compositions. He’s most well known for his suite Koyunbaba, named after a Turkish saint in the 15th century.
John Dowland (1563-1626)
English lutenist and Renaissance composer John Dowland is one of the foremost composers among early music enthusiasts. His musical works, many of which are religious songs and court-commissioned compositions, have been arranged for voice, guitar, and even full ensembles.
Roland Dyens (1955-2016)
French guitarist and composer Roland Dyens crossed many genres of music, and in doing so he helped broaden the definition of “classical guitar”. Dyens was known for his improvisations, and would often begin a concert with an improvisational piece. I was lucky enough to have a masterclass with Dyens at Guilford College in 2009, and was blown away by his performance, technique and musicality.
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Manuel de Falla is one of Spain’s most prominent composers and pianists. Many of de Falla’s works were inspired by Spanish folk and flamenco music of Andalusia. Although he never composed for guitar specifically, arrangements of his work for the instrument are very popular.
Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829)
Italian guitarist, cellist, singer, and composer Mauro Giuliani was a leading guitar virtuoso of the early 19th century. For guitar, Giuliani composed many etudes, theme and variations, and a series of numerous opera themes based on the operas of Gioachino Rossini known as Le Rossiniane. The operatic influence is clear in all of Giuliani’s compositions, which contain gorgeous and bold melodic lines.
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
Spanish pianist and composer Enrique Granados reached world renowned fame with his compositions in a distinctive Spanish style. Arrangements for his 12 danzas españolas are his most popular pieces for guitar. Unfortunately, Granados’s life was tragically cut short just after performing a recital for then president Woodrow Wilson in New York. Granados and his wife drowned following a torpedo attack on the boat vessel they were occupying on their return trip from the U.S. en route to England.
Nikita Koshkin (b. 1956)
Russian composer and guitarist Nikita Koshkin is most well-known for his stunning programatic piece Usher Waltz, inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s story The Fall of the House of Usher:
Antonio Lauro (1917-1986)
Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro has an outstanding reputation as one of the most renowned South American guitar composers in the 20th century. Lauro’s music brought Venezuelan music into the mainstream classical repertoire, and frequently incorporated syncopation and hemiola rhythms in his compositions.
Luigi Legnani (1790-1877)
Italian guitar composer Luigi Legnani was also a virtuoso opera singer, and respected luthier. For guitar, Lugnani is best known for his 36 Caprices, Op. 20, which span all the major and minor keys. This collection, along with this other Legnani guitar compositions can be found for free here.
Miguel Llobet (1878-1938)
Miguel Llobet is regarded as one of the most important Spanish guitarists and composers of all time. Llobet toured extensively, performing concerts across Europe and the U.S. He is most well-known for his arrangements of Catalan folk songs, along with pieces by Isaac Albéniz. Along with Tárrega, Llobet is also known to have given some instruction to the young Andres Segovia.
Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856)
Austro-Hungarian guitar composer J.K. Mertz was inspired by the romantic (and virtuosic) piano music by composers such as Liszt, Chopin, and Schubert. The Bardenklänge, a series of character pieces inspired by the structure and sound of Schumann, are probably Mertz’s most important contribution to the guitar repertoire. These pieces, along with the Liszt-inspired fantasias La rimembranza, Pensée fugitive and Harmonie du soir, are considered a trilogy.
Alonso Mudarra (1510-1580)
Alonso Mudarra is a Spanish Renaissance composer who wrote music for the vihuela, a six double-string instrument which proceeded the guitar. Mudarra’s collection Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela (“Three books of music in numbers for vihuela”) contain the first music ever published for the four-course guitar in 1546. Guitarist Julian Bream helped revive Mudarra’s music in his feature documentary “A Musical Journey Through Spain”.
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)
Italian virtuoso Paganini primarily composed music for violin and guitar. Although he enjoyed the guitar and even met Carulli and Giuliani, he never publicly performed with the instrument. Paganini’s guitar sonatas, along with the 24 Caprices, are the collections played most often on guitar. In particular, Paganini’s Caprice no. 24 requires technical brilliance from the guitarist, and is considered one of the most challenging pieces in all of classical guitar repertoire.
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)
Mexican composer Manuel Ponce wrote music for guitar, piano, chamber ensembles, and small orchestras. Similar to Villa-Lobos and other Latin American contemporaries at the time, Ponce’s harmonies and melodies drew heavily upon Mexican popular songs from the past, along with folklore elements.
Ida Presti (1924-1967)
French classical guitarist and composer Ida Presti came onto the scene as a child prodigy, and went on to become one of the most renowned guitar performers of all time. Presti gave the French premier of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and composed solo and duo works for guitar. Unfortunately, she suffered an untimely death due to lung cancer at the age of 42.
Giulio Regondi (1822-1872)
Swiss-born Regondi was a child prodigy who spent most of life in the United Kingdom and France. Regondi was labeled a child prodigy and even caught the attention of Fernando Sor who dedicated his piece Souvenir d’amitié op. 46 to Regondi when he was just 9 years old. Regondi composed a set of etudes, along with impressive arrangements and variations of operatic themes, such as Fantasie über Mozarts Don Giovanni.
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
If there’s one piece that proves that guitar can be a solo instrument worthy of center stage in an orchestral setting, it’s the blind Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s masterpiece Concierto de Aranjuez. The concierto has been performed by the top soloists in the world, including Paco de Lucía, John Williams, and Pepe Romero.
Gasper Sanz (1640-1710)
Spanish baroque guitarist, professor, and composer Gaspar Sanz wrote three volumes of pedagogical works for guitar that have served as a valuable resource for centuries. Sanz’s most popular guitar composition is the solo piece Canarios, which has been recorded by Julian Bream, John Williams, and Paco Peña, among others.
Julio Salvador Sagreras (1879-1942)
Argentine guitarist and composer Julio Sagreras is known for his series of instructional resources, namely, Las primeras segundas y terceras lecciones de guitarra books 1-7. Indeed, in my opinion this remains one of the most methodical and well constructed teaching resource to help students progress from beginner to intermediate to advanced levels. Perhaps his most famous virtuosic piece is El Colibri (The Hummingbird):
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Spanish composer Domenico Scarlatti is considered a Baroque composer who helped influence the theoretical progression to the Classical era. Scarlatti is mostly known for his 555 keyboard sonatas, some of which have been arranged for guitar. Being from Spain, he was inspired by the guitar and uniquely incorporated the Phrygian mode (a favored mode in flamenco music). In this way, Scarlatti’s compositions work very well for guitar, and are a popular part of the repertoire.
Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
Spanish composer and guitar virtuoso Fernando Sor wrote some of the most popular etudes for beginner and intermediate guitarists. He is also known for composing more complex pieces, including an opera, ballets, and symphonies. Sor’s most commonly performed concert-level pieces include Grand Solo, Op. 14 and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9.
Nearly all classical guitarists will play the music of Sor at some point in their development, and his legacy remains as one of the most important guitar composers in history.
Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909)
Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega is widely considered the most iconic and popular guitar composer of all time. Tárrega composed in the Romantic period, which one can hear clearly in his swooping, melancholy melodies that seem to just ‘sing’ with passionate emotion, longing, and at times, tragedy.
With frequent melodic slides up the neck, his ability to utilize the full range of the guitar sets him apart from composers. Needless to say, Tárrega is a brilliant composer and arranger that any fan of guitar will love.
Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982)
Spanish composer Torroba is most well-known for his collection of zarzuelas, a lyric-dramatic style that alternates between spoken and sung phrases. Although he did not play the instrument himself, he composed may solo guitar works. For guitar, Torroba’s three-movement Suite Castellana and Sonantina are the most popular.
Joaqúin Turina (1882-1949)
In the guitar world, Spanish composer Turina is most well-known for his Fandanguillo and Hommage à Tárrega, both of which were written for Andrés Segovia. Turina was inspired by impressionist composers at the time, such as Ravel and Debussy. This inspiration is evident in his compositions, though with a distinctive Spanish flare.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Brazillian composer, cellist, guitarist, and conductor Heitor Villa-Lobos is considered the most prominent Brazillian art music composer of the 20th century, and one of the best-known South American composers of all time. The music of Villa-Lobos blends Brazillian folk music with European classical theory.
His most popular pieces for guitar, including his 12 Etudes dedicated to Segovia, 5 Preludes, and Chôros, are significant in the way they explore dynamics, chromaticism, and technical brilliance across the guitar neck.
Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750)
German composer Silvius Weiss was a superb and prolific lutenist and composer. Weiss is known to have interacted with J.S. Bach, where they allegedly used to compete in improvisations. Weiss composed more than 1,000 works for the lute, many of which are grouped in suites or sonatas.
Andrew York (b. 1958)
American Grammy award-winning guitarist and composer Andrew York is one of the most popular contemporary artists. York has over 50 published compositions, some of which have been performed and recorded by guitarists such as John Williams and Jason Vieaux (Sunburst on Vieaux’s Grammy-winning album, PLAY). You can learn more about Andrew York and purchase his scores on his website: https://www.andrewyork.net/