Well, 1) Mind you i'm probably off about some of this, wether flat out incorrect or lacking sufficient explanation, but it will give you a 'general idea' of why.
2) I don't recall ever in any history course hearing the terms 'baroque', 'classical' and 'romantic'. Not to say that there is no such time period, but in regard to studying in a general history class you don't often hear the 'baroque' period and the 'classical' period. So, when we think of music from the last couple of centuries, in 'slang' and 'general' usage of the word, we say 'classical music'. However, there are 3 periods that divide what you most likely consider to be 'classical 'music.
3) The baroque period is generally agreed on ranging from 1600 to 1750, the classical period follows, from 1750 - mid 19th century (not sure when, 1830-40?), and then the romantic period follows from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century, where 20th century music rises, and could still fall under what you consider to be 'classical'.
In the Baroque period, Bach, Vivaldi, Purcell, Handel, Monteverdi, Glucke, Telemann and others were the big names, but you might condense it to Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel as three of the most 'famous'.
Bach - he was largely forgotten for a century at least I believe, it wasn't until Mendelssohn (romantic era) that people really started taking an interest in past music. (also mind you, the limited availability of music being able to be spread, so it's not like everyone knew bach's music, it was re-discovered, same goes for many other composers). He is the 'god' (if you will) of counterpoint. His compositions, chorales, fugues, inventions, concertos, etc are great exercises for counterpoint. Most recognizable to you probably is his 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' and 'Prelude in C Major' from the well-tempered klavier.
In the baroque era composers really established what we know as counterpoint (art of setting two voices against each other). Many later composers studied bach and other baroque compositions.
He wrote over a thousand things, spitting out compositions that are all beautiful.
Handel is an baroque composer, probably known for some of his operas (famous arias especially like 'Lascia chi'o pianga', watermusic suite, and especially the still performed 'Messiah' (an oratorio, sort of like an opera but based on religious text). (picture any time on tv someone has an epiphany or some miraculous and fortunate turn of events and the air around them lights up and the chorus sings 'hallelujiah'). He's responsible for that. (or listen to it, Handel - hallelujiah chorus'.
Vivaldi is a famous composer and virtuoso violinist. He is most known for his 'Four Seasons' (if you google that, one of the four movements will sound very familiar!) I should know more about him off the top of my head but its 3 am so nope.
The classical period actually has a specific group of 3 people from this period.
'The First Viennese school' refers to three composers centered around Vienna, the capital of Austria.
Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn.
Haydn: Is the least known to me, but very well known for his string quartets. To generalize his style of music is to say lots of gentle flowing movement with strings. (not true for all!, just a overgeneralization).
Mozart: Died early, but was a piano and composer prodigy. He could turn out melodies that you'd find yourself humming on the spot as well as being very rhythmic and energetic.
'Non piu andrai' for instance. Such a piece is also one of his that was a political statement, (this is an aria sung where the singer, Figaro (a servant, the gentile), is mocking Cherubino, a (ex) member of the court (royal/nobility). His most famous operas are probably Le Nozze di Figaro (the marriage of figaro), Die Zauberflote (the magic flute), and Don Giovanni. Famous piano pieces include the Fantasia in D minor, the 12 variations of twinkle little star, and other famous compositions must definitely include his Requiem, listen to 'Dies Irae' by Mozart and that might sound familiar, used in television frequently. There's much more i'm missing! He always thought of himself as 'equal' to aristocrats, but aristocrats at this time had musicians play in their houses as entertainment, and despite even in mozart's case being beloved as a musician, he was still a common man and looked down upon. He died from an STD (?)early for their life span back then while he and his wife were trying to get either payment or $ from a rich person (forget the specifics).
Beethoven: The motif master. Motifs are essentially the shortest musical ideas, and his most famous 'motif' is probably the beginning four notes of his 5th symphony. (listen to 10 seconds of Beethoven's 5th, and you will recognize it, also frequently used in media). He has 3 distinct periods, and is a transitory figure from the Classical era to the romantic era.
He had a knack for taking these motifs and stretching out their usefulness from a 3 second motif to, in this case, a 35 minute piece, in a exciting way. (although in the romantic period, I remember a quote from Chopin calling Beethoven boring). Beethoven's compositional style is also leads to the beginning of film score music. (Wagner is noted more for his impact on film score music, but Wagner was strongly influenced by Beethoven). Motifs are used frequently in films to denote certain themes. Beethoven's 9th is also very famous, as well as his moonlight sonata, and waldstein, pathetique, and erotica(?) sonata. He was virtuosic pianist as well. He composed his 9th symphony when he was deaf (as well as some other compositions, i presume).
Lord of the Rings: Look up scenes of the Ring wraiths and you'll hear familiar melodies.
References to the shire bring up a certain melody
Star Wars: Imperial troopers - Cue the stormtrooper march music!
As to why them and not others:
Their music was good. Inventive and quality compositions for their time period.
Pick out your favorite composer from a crowd of justin bieber songs that go 'oooh baby, baby baby baby'.
Not to say that other pieces were bad, but that these composers really stood out
(another comparison - scientists, you probably would of thought of Steven hawking in your immediate list. not to say that others are bad, he's just very prominent). Their music stood out.
· 4 weeks ago