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Cello repertoire has evolved so much over the previous centuries, and this evolution is driven by forward thinking composers who mastered the ability to write that felt grounded in tradition but looked to the future for new ideas and new material.

Before we discuss my favorite cello composers, let’s acknowledge the obvious and state that this list is entirely subjective.

The composers in this list were decided based on a few factors, including their legacy and impact on the cello, and compositional complexity in their work.

This said, this is not a factual list, but a deep dive into 10 cello composers that I think are worth your intention.

Without further ado, let’s kick off our discussion and jump into the “10 best cello composers” of all time.


1. Luciano Berio

Best Cello Composers: Luciano Berio

Luciano Berio contributed a number of influential pieces for the cello that defined what it meant to write a “contemporary” piece for cello.

Two of his Sequenzas, Sequenza VIb and Sequenza XIV, are excellent examples of combining contemporary notation techniques with a compositional style that is full of character and timbral exploration.

His other pieces for solo cello Les mots sont allés and Chanson pour Pierre Boulez show off an adept sense of lyricality and idiomatic writing for the cello.

2. Benjamin Britten

Best Cello Composers: Benjamin Britten

Through his several cello sonatas, cello suites, and his masterful cello symphony, Britten contributed some of the most profound works for cello to date.

Britten’s charismatic compositional style lends itself very well to the cello, which has allowed his works for cello to stand out so well in the long term.

One of his standout cello works of Britten include his Suite No. 1 for solo cello:

3. Edward Elgar

Best Cello Composers: Edward Elgar

Sir Edward Elgar has become known as one of the most iconic British composers of all time, a success that came through the composition of several very important pieces of music.

You may know him as the composer of Pomp and Circumstances, or his Enigma Variations.

However, one of his most successful and important pieces is his Cello Concerto.

Elgar wrote this piece near the end of his career, with a considerably unsuccessful premiere in 1919. 

However, performances and recordings several decades later from cello icons such as Jacqueline du Pré and Pablo Casals turned this piece into one of the most iconic cello compositions of all time.

While Elgar didn’t write tons of cello sonatas or solo cello pieces, the overwhelming impact this piece has had on the greater cello repertoire gives Elgar a firm place in this list.

Check out this tonebase course on the Elgar Cello Concerto with internationally renowned cellist Julian Schwartz:

4. Camille Saint-Saëns

Best Cello Composers: Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns, the late 19th-century French composer has left behind some of the most performed cello pieces of all time.

Not only are his cello pieces so frequently performed, they are also some of the most listened-to pieces of classical music of all time.

The most prominent piece that most people will recognize is Le cygne, or The Swan, from his Carnival of the Animals.

This brief yet profoundly evocative piece for cello and piano has inspired thousands of people to pick up the cello and start their musical journey, and shown the power that classical music can have on us as listeners and musicians alike.

Saint-Saëns (pronounced “san-sohns”) also produced 2 very successful cello concertos that have encapsulated audiences around the world.

Here is a preview of Mischa Maisky performing The Swan in his exclusive tonebase lesson on the iconic Saint-Saëns piece:

5. Carlo Alfredo Piatti

Best Cello Composers: Carlo Alfredo Piatti

Carlo Alfredo Piatti was an Italian cellist and composer who wrote several pieces for the cello that come with some tricky technical requirements, but prove to be an engaging challenge for cellists as they develop their technical facility.

Piatti's Caprices and Method for the Violoncello stand out in particular as very difficult pieces that require the cellist to have tight control on their bow, but they remain as frequently sought out repertoire for many cellists.

A first listen to these works will reveal rows of double-stops, fast melodic lines, and other intimidating features.

However, Piatti’s writing was still very idiomatic and well-tailored to the cello, and nonetheless incredibly expressive and beautiful.

Julian Schwarz teaches 4 of these impressive Caprices in his lessons on tonebase cello:

6. Johann Sebastian Bach

Best Cello Composers: Johann Sebastian (J.S.) Bach

It is really impossible to have a list about the best cello composers without mentioning Johann Sebastian Bach, the most celebrated of the Baroque composers and one of the most influential composers of all time.

While Bach helped to define our modern harmonic practices and wrote one iconic piece after another, his six Cello Suites have managed to become some of the most well-known cello pieces of all time.

Arguably, some may consider them to be the single most well-known classical pieces of all time.

Championed by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, these cello suites put right on display really how well the cello sings, showcasing the instrument's lyrical capabilities as well as its potential to tell captivating musical stories.

The prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is the most well-known in particular:

7. Ludwig van Beethoven

Best Cello Composers: Ludwig van Beethoven

Next is another hugely iconic German composer from roughly a hundred years later, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Beethoven composed his 5 Cello Sonatas at various points in his career, and each sonata has managed to define the standard cello repertoire to some extent. 

Beethoven’s signature early-romantic sound, combined with his detailed understanding of the cello, lended itself to some truly incredible works for cello.

Check out cellist Gary Hoffman’s course on Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 5, featuring some incredible performances from the cellist himself:

8. Samuel Barber

Best Cello Composers: Samuel Barber

Earlier we discussed the impact Elgar’s Cello Concerto had on the greater cello world.

Another hugely important work for cello that should be recognized is Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto.

Barber’s Cello Concerto, completed in 1945 for Russian-born American cellist Raya Garbousova, and while it never saw the same performance volume the Elgar concerto did, it still remains as one of the most evocative works for cello in my opinion.

However, what makes Barber so important is not only this masterful concerto but also his colorful Sonata for Violoncello and Piano.

While written pretty early in his career, it’s a piece that feels very fresh and inspired, and also carries Barber’s characteristic elements of motivic cohesion throughout the piece.

Watch cellist Camden Shaw perform the dramatic opening to Barber’s cello sonata in his tonebase lesson:

9. Zoltán Kodály

Best Cello Composers: Zoltán Kodály

When I think of composers who really innovated the sound of the solo cello, Zoltán Kodály comes right to mind.

Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello is a particularly dark piece, which can largely be explained by his decision to detune the third and fourth strings down a half step.

However it’s a piece that bears with it some incredibly challenging technical requirements, which are met with some of the most dramatic and expressive instances of cello writing I’ve ever seen.

Follow along with the score to see into his detailed piece for solo cello:

10. Gaspar Cassadó

Best Cello Composers: Gaspar Cassadó

Last on this list is the great Gaspar Cassadó.

While mainly known as one of the great cello virtuosos, he composed some of the most masterful cello pieces to date.

From his Cello Concerto in D minor to his plenty of pieces for cello and piano, Cassadó knew how to apply his technical brilliance on the cello to his compositions.

My favorite of his pieces has to be his Suite for Cello, a lengthy piece for solo cello that displays a masterful understanding of cello composition and a balance of technical difficulty and expression:


From Kodály’s brooding yet dynamic Sonata for Solo Cello to Barber’s gorgeous Cello Concerto, the greater cello repertoire has been gifted with some truly remarkable composers who knew how to push the instrument to its extremes both technically and musically.

Remember, this is not a factual list, rather an overview of some composers who stand out to me.

So if you enjoyed this post and want to learn more about cello repertoire, just put in a little research and you’ll be happy to find hundreds of exceptional composers who also knew the cello inside-out.

Are you a cellist looking to take your playing to the next level?

Feel free to click this link to check out our in-depth courses on cello, taught by artists including Grammy winning cellists and professors from schools such as Juilliard, Curtis, and more.

On tonebase, you will find in-depth courses and workshops with some of the world’s top cellists, covering a wide range of subjects such as repertoire-specific lessons, cello technique, and more.

Happy playing!

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