Posts Tagged ‘Symphonies’

Consider every symphony named Symphony #X, where X is an integer.  For what value of X is the set of Symphonies #X the greatest?

For example, let X = 9.  There are some incredible 9th symphonies: Beethoven’s, of course, but Mahler’s, Bruckner’s, and Schubert’s 9th all come to mind as well.  Is there a value of X which exceeds this collection?

This question is, obviously, absurdly subjective.  Whatever results I get will surely not coincide with yours.  Nevertheless, the question is entertaining, which (in my view) is reason enough to think about it.

First, some ground rules.  Symphonies without numbers are hereby excluded.  So, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique is out (rightly or wrongly), as is Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony and d’Indy’s Symphony on a French Mountain Air.  That’s a shame, really, since all three of these works are awesome.  But, I didn’t make the rules.  (Oh wait, I did.  Never mind.)

Symphonies which are incomplete are fair game, however, such as Bruckner’s 9th, Mahler’s 10th, or Schubert’s 8th.  I’ll always remember the first time I heard Bruckner’s 9th: lying down, in the dark, with Walkman headphones.  I had no idea that the symphony was unfinished; no idea that the 3rd movement was not meant to be the finale.  I thought that the unresolved harmonies, the unfulfilled longing, was a magical way to end a piece…

Image result for sibelius symphony manuscript score

Brahms #4

Since the question is so subjective, let’s be as objective as possible with scoring.  I will go through integers X = 1 through 9, listing and discussing my top ten symphonies with that X value.  (Sorry, X = 0.  Although I enjoy Bruckner’s Symphony #0, that’s not enough.)  Beyond X = 9, the pickings are sparse.  You’re basically just looking at Haydn, Mozart, Shostakovich, and Hovhaness.  Each of my top ten will get a score (from 60-100, roughly equivalent to a letter grade) and the results for each X will be averaged.  Thus, each X will have a maximum possible score of 100.

[Note: a score of 60, which I would call a D-, doesn’t mean that I think the symphony sucks.  Far from it: any score of 60 or greater I would give a positive review for, much like a Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Remember that there are 90 symphonies here, and that I’m comparing them against one another.]

Let the games begin!

X = 1

Beethoven Symphony #1

It’s hard to like early Beethoven symphonies.  I admire them in the abstract; they’re transitional Classical pieces before Beethoven took off the gloves and became a Romantic.  But really, who wouldn’t rather listen to Mozart’s 41st symphony than this thing?  Score: 68

Brahms Symphony #1

This one’s a giant.  All the movements are solid, but the sunlight pouring in from the door in the middle of the finale, when that Melody comes in, is incomparable.  Score: 92

Brian Symphony #1, “Gothic”

This one’s a giant for a different reason: a performance lasts almost two hours.  There are lots of interesting bits in there, but the whole thing is rather murky.  The youtube link for this symphony has pictures of Gothic cathedrals, which is appropriate: the symphony is stodgy, contrived, yet beautiful.  Score: 81

Image result for gothic cathedrals

Bruckner Symphony #1

I’ve always liked Bruckner, but this is one of his average efforts.  It’s as if he hadn’t learned subtlety yet.  Yet the Brucknerian chordal progressions are there…you can tell there’s greater stuff yet to be written.  Score: 75

Mahler Symphony #1

This is good, I suppose; I like most of it.  As Aladdin said, it’s like a whole new world.  But the Frère Jacques thing in the slow movement puts me off.  Score: 80

Prokofiev Symphony #1, “Classical”

You don’t like 20th century atonalism?  Then try this.  I can hear Prokofiev saying, “Hey?  Whadda ya want from me?”  It’s funny how Prokofiev imitating Haydn sounds a bit like cheerful Shostakovich.  Still, it’s catchy.  Score: 84

Shostakovich Symphony #1

Speaking of Shostakovich, this one ain’t cheerful at all.  It’s warped: it’s like a stroll through a museum of artworks by mental patients.  Near the end of the 2nd movement, the shoe drops.  Am I the only one who hears the Imperial (Death Star) march in there?  Score: 86

Sibelius Symphony #1

No one wrote symphonies more consistently than Sibelius.  Unlike Beethoven or Bruckner, I actually choose to listen to Sibelius #1 on occasion.  The theme of the 1st movement is great; the Andante is relaxing; the finale is hardy and (like much of Sibelius) somehow Arctic. Score: 83

Tchaikovsky Symphony #1, “Winter Dreams”

Most people don’t think of Tchaikovsky as a symphonist, except for maybe his 6th.  But many of his other symphonies are worth a listen.  His 1st is sprightly, Mendelssohnesque, but indisputably Tchaikovsky.  The triumphant ending is worth the price of admission.  Score: 76

Walton Symphony #1

It makes me sad that Sibelius never gave us an 8th symphony (the sketches that survive don’t count).  Walton’s 1st symphony is a consolation, though.  The influence of Sibelius is obvious: the fragmented motifs, the iron-clad logic.  Every single movement makes me smile.  And the ending is so optimistic!  Score: 95


X = 2

Sibelius Symphony #2

Speaking of Sibelius, with only his 2nd symphony, you’re already in rarefied territory.  I have probably listened to this symphony more than any other piece of music written, with the possible exception of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.  Sibelius #2 transports me to some remote part of Finland, maybe Helvetinjärvi National Park.  I like how the entire symphony builds inexorably to the finale, maybe one of the greatest musical exhalations ever written.  Score: 98

sibelius 2.jpg

Borodin Symphony #2

My opinion of this piece depends upon my mood.  Sometimes I love it.  Other times it’s meh.  The opening movement is dark and energetic, but seems like a prologue.  The 2nd movement is fast yet forgettable.  The 3rd movement is the best: a faultless, serene melody.  The finale is vigorous, rhythmically interesting, complex, yet hollow.  Score:  77

Hovhaness Symphony #2, “Mysterious Mountain”

One of the few symphonies whose nickname adds something to the listening experience.  Picture a mountain, shrouded in mists.  The music takes you onto the mountain, but also underneath it: there are subterranean caverns, glistening stalactites, corners with cobwebs, and sunlight glinting off giant broken geodes.  Listen to it in the dark.  It never gets old.  Score: 96

Mahler Symphony #2, “Resurrection”

One of Mahler’s epic choral symphonies.  I consider this one superior to the more unfocused 8th.  There’s a journey here: from life to death to life.  Heady stuff, and emotional.  Score: 90

Rachmaninoff Symphony #2

Rachmaninoff knew how to write for the piano (his 2nd Piano Concerto would get a score of 100 if it were a symphony).  There’s no piano here, but it’s still sublime.  No real melodies to hang onto, just gorgeous sonorities, key changes, textures, a harmonic mosaic that somehow conveys poignancy, joy, and sadness at the same time.   Score: 88

Shostakovich Symphony #2, “October”

This one’s very experimental.  The music is layered on chaotically, almost randomly.  And the chorus at the end sounds like it is singing on pain of death.  But…there’s energy here, and life.  Score: 80

Beethoven Symphony #2

See comments about Beethoven’s 1st symphony.  I’ll only add that the 2nd has a better, more vigorous opening movement.  But the slow movement is dull, and the final movement starts…and stops…too much…for my taste.  The “melody” of the finale is strange to say the least.  Score: 70

Tchaikovsky Symphony #2, “Little Russian”

This C minor effort is, like the 1st, obviously Tchaikovsky.  The tone is more “serious” than the 1st, though: it’s rousing and Russian in a sort of stereotypical way.  There’s also another triumphant ending.  Tchaikovsky really knew how to end things with a bang.  Score: 79

Schubert Symphony #2

One gets the feeling this is a continuation of Mozart or Haydn, with hints of Romanticism lurking around the edges.  In a way, it’s like Beethoven #1…but more elegant; more melodic; happier. Score: 72

Brahms Symphony #2

Brahms wasn’t able to match his 1st symphony with this attempt.  Still, it’s well-made: bucolic, relaxing; serene.  A little dry. Score: 74



Górecki Symphony  #3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

This may be the strangest of the symphonies on this list.  The first movement is a minimalist canon (with strings only) that gradually reaches apotheosis with a soprano, singing laments in Polish.  It’s sad; the other movements are even sadder.  The music might seem clichéd, but that’s only because of over-exposure (the CD from 1992 sold over a million copies). This music never fails to move.  Score: 89

Saint-Saëns Symphony #3, “Organ Symphony”

Monumental but put together with exquisite craftsmanship, the organ symphony is one of those works that will make you stop whatever you’re doing and listen.  The organ’s entry in the finale is spectacular.  And is that a fugue?  Too bad they used the music in the pig-movie Babe.  Score: 92

Sibelius Symphony #3

Sibelius can do no wrong, yo?  Leaner and more focused than #1 and #2, Sibelius #3 looks toward the 20th century with optimism, almost naively missing World War I on the horizon (which will descend 7 years later).  But I can’t help but feeling Sibelius is saying more here than I realize.  Score: 84

Beethoven Symphony #3, “Eroica”

Beethoven symphonies improved almost linearly.  His third effort is the first, in my mind, that might make you say, “hmm, this guy’s got some talent”.  The funeral march is boring, but the other three movements are masterful examples of early Romanticism.  Score: 79

Bruckner, Symphony #3, “Wagner Symphony”

Bruckner also showed steady improvement in his symphonies over time.  This symphony is the first of Bruckner’s symphonies to sound fully Brucknerian: adult, ponderous, serious, incisive, and complex.  It feels to me like the soundtrack to a depressing tale from the Silmarillion, perhaps the fall of Gondolin.  And I mean that as a complement.  Score: 81

Image result for fall of gondolin

Ecthelion vs. Gothmog

Khachaturian Symphony #3

This is a very iconoclastic pick on my part.  The symphony (from 1947) is very obscure, but there’s something compelling about it.  It’s a single movement, dominated by an organ and 15 trumpets.  Wikipedia calls it “raw and strident” and I agree.  That’s why I like it.  Score: 87

Mahler Symphony #3

I want to like this symphony.  Most of the time, I do.  It’s Mahler’s most epic symphony:  it clocks in at an hour and a half.    Depending on your mood, that might be a good thing, or it might seem a tad bit prolix.  There’s definitely some interesting stuff scattered in there.  But then: that weird song an hour in.  WTF?  Then there are some elves singing a Christmas song.  Um, OK… Score: 80

Mendelssohn Symphony #3, “Scottish”

No elves here; just early Romantic stuff disguised as faux-Mozart.  There’s nothing to complain about, but also nothing much to remember.  Score:  73

Glass Symphony #3

Not the best work of Philip Glass, but then, he’s better with opera (The Photographer) and movie scores (Koyaanisqatsi). Still, there aren’t many “Symphony #3”’s to pick from, so Glass makes the cut.  And this is an interesting fusion of Glassian minimalism and traditional symphonic form.  Score: 84

Schubert Symphony #3

The musical equivalent to crème brulee.  There is a Mozartian perfection here, but with hints of Romanticism.  After a stately “French overture”-type intro, the orchestra and a lone clarinet get into a good-natured pillow fight.  Melodic.  Reassuring.  Only the Grinch would dislike this.  Score: 87


X = 4

Mendelssohn Symphony  #4, “Italian”

This symphony covers the same happy ground as the Schubert #3, and much of it is ingenious, but there’s something indefinably missing.  It’s like crème brulee that’s been sitting out for an hour or so.  While listening to this, I daydream about Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is superior.  Score: 84

Tchaikovsky Symphony #4

One reviewer called this a “Sleigh Ride Through Siberia”.  Another said “the composer’s twaddle disturbed my mood”.  I agree somewhat, but rather like this symphony anyway.  Tchaikovsky symphonies, like Bruckner’s, got better as he went.  Score: 82

Brahms Symphony #4

Finally Brahms matches his 1st symphony!  The lilting melody at the opening is sublime.  And the finale—a passacaglia (theme and variations), based on a Bach cantata!—proves that rigid structure and control can still yield immense beauty.  Score: 92

Beethoven Symphony #4

The most underrated Beethoven symphony.  Everybody talks about the odd-numbered ones (3,5,7,9) but this one is right up there.  The ambiguous tonality of the opening reminds me of the great Beethoven overtures like Lenore III or Fidelio.  Score: 87

Sibelius Symphony #4

Not for the faint of heart, this symphony is the bleakest music ever composed.  And I don’t mean pathos; for that, take Barber’s Adagio for Strings if you like, or Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess.  No, the Sibelius #4 is music that stares back at you, with a gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun”.  The universe isn’t a sad place, it’s just indifferent.  Score: 96

Bruckner Symphony #4, “Romantic”

With the 4th Bruckner is really hitting his stride.  I’ve heard it said that the movements depict scenes from Medieval Europe.  There’s certainly a lot of French horn calls in there: Tallyho, and all that.  The Scherzo is great.  Score: 85

Nielsen Symphony #4, “The Inextinguishable”

Composed during World War I, this symphony might have the most dramatic opening of any symphony.  The rest of the piece is eclectic, disturbing, psychological.  Be sure to stick around for the timpani battle. Score: 87

Image result for famous world war 1 art

“The Tanks at Seicheprey” by H. T. Dunn


Ives Symphony #4

And speaking of eclectic and disturbing, the Ives #4 can be downright weird at times.  What’s that piano doing in there?  Is that a church choir?  This music sounds almost ethereal.  But then…it’s like a church service with goblins besieging the place.  Polystylistic in the extreme.  The 3rd movement is downright serene. Score: 89

Mahler Symphony #4

OK, OK, I know it’s Mahler.  By default, it’s good.  But…sleigh bells?  This is a kid’s symphony, like Mahler writes the soundtrack to a Harry Potter book.  Score: 70

Schumann Symphony #4

In the beginning of the Romantic period was Beethoven.  At the end, there was Brahms.  In between was…Schumann.  This is well-crafted and well-orchestrated stuff, but kinda forgettable.  Score: 76


X = 5

Beethoven Symphony #5

I’ve heard this so many times it’s clichéd—it’s hard to hear it “objectively”.  But there’s not a dull moment, and the transition from C minor to C major (going from the Scherzo to the Finale) is awe-inspiring.  The coda is a tad over-long (OK, we get it, we’re in C major now) but all is forgiven.  Score: 90

Shostakovich Symphony #5

When I first heard this, I had no expectations whatsoever.  I knew nothing about the piece.  It starts with a strange, jumping, disturbing melody, and seems agitated, almost anxious.  Then: holy shit, what just happened?  Dear lord, it sounds like Nazis have invaded.  Just writing this, I have to listen to the symphony again.  Score: 96

Sibelius Symphony #5

Best symphony ever written.  The final movement gives me hope for humanity.  Nothing more needs to be said.  [Note: make sure you listen to Vänskä’s version.]  Score: 100

Bruckner Symphony #5

There’s so much going on here, I don’t know what to say.  So Bruckner.  So complex.  The finale takes every theme of the symphony, and creates a sonata-like movement, or is it a fugue?  Or something else?  Score: 94

Tchaikovsky Symphony #5 “Fate”

Tchaikovsky just gets better and better.  Despair, ultimately, gives way to triumph.  Score: 86

Mahler Symphony #5

For people familiar with the Adagietto from the 5th, this symphony has a lot more to offer.  Sure, the Adagietto is beautiful and achingly poignant, but the rest of the symphony is epic.  Like most Mahler, however, he makes Bruckner look laconic.  Score: 84

Image result for melancholy flowers

Nielsen Symphony #5

I like this Nielsen symphony even more than his more famous 4th.  It continues on the World War I theme.  This time, the snare drum tries to destroy the orchestra.  Eventually, the orchestra (barely) wins.  Score: 88

Schubert Symphony #5

Schubert continues to channel Mozart well into the Romantic period.  But this is late Mozart, with some heft and substance to it: if you said this was Mozart’s 42nd symphony I wouldn’t be surprised. Score: 86

Vaughn Williams Symphony #5

I suppose I’m fond of this because of the Sibeliusian influence.  The symphony was, after all, dedicated to Sibelius.  It’s very pastoral; it reminds me of the Shire.  See the hobbits, walking over there?  Score: 84

Prokofiev Symphony #5

There aren’t as many 5th symphonies as I thought.  I decided to round-out the 5’s with this effort of Prokofiev.  It’s got many of the qualities (novel orchestrations, percussive melodies, dramatic fortes) that drew me to, say, Romeo and Juliet.  Score: 75


X = 6

Beethoven Symphony #6, “Pastoral”

Many people rank this as Beethoven’s best symphony, but it’s too cheerful for me.  Maybe I can’t get the image of the horny centaurs from Fantasia out of my head.  But if you want cheerful, this is it.  It’s hard to believe the guy who wrote this was a grumpy middle-aged man going deaf.  Score: 76

Tchaikovsky Symphony #6, “Pathetique”

And we come to Tchaikovsky’s best symphony, the 6th.  That wistful melody from the opening… The dance movement in 5/4 time… The weirdly addictive scherzo march theme… The finale: is it sadness, or resignation?  Score: 89

Mahler Symphony #6, “Tragic”

Unlike Sibelius or even Bruckner, many of Mahler’s symphonies kind of blur together in my mind into a sort of Mahlerian mush.  This is the one with the hammer blows, I think.  I know that I enjoy this one; it’s suitably epic and dramatic.  But as for the details, well, I’m not in the mood right now to listen to this for an hour and a half.  Score: 84 (?)

Bruckner Symphony #6

Even Bruckner fans often diss the 6th, but it sounds good to me: more contained, more modest than the 5th, but still full of organ-like pedal-point harmonies and the “Bruckner rhythm” of two quarter notes followed by a triplet.  It’s like Bruckner’s 5th on Xanax.  Score:  85

Sibelius Symphony #6

A great symphony, but it’s overshadowed in my mind by the 5th and 7th which bookend it.  Snowy harmonies, and a mixture of serene contentment and vague unease.  It’s like waking up to a foggy dawn in the Smokies, to discover autumn’s first frost.   Score: 86

Image result for frost in the great smoky mountains

Shostakovich Symphony #6

And just like that, I’ve run out of 6’s which come to mind instantly.  I’m not that familiar with the Shostakovich #6, but have heard it a few times, and the impression I’ve always had was that the movements, although good individually, don’t quite jive.  The first movement is the best: depression and despair.  Nobody does despair and oppression quite like Shostakovich.  The other two movements are jolly, and good in a “Festival Overture” sort of way, but don’t quite mesh with the opening.  Score: 74

Dvorak Symphony #6

This is a standard late-Romantic symphony.  Brahmsian.  It’s a good effort: good enough to pay the bills, at any rate.  Score: 71

Vaughn Williams Symphony #6

Oh wait: I forgot about the Vaughn Williams #6.  This is good shit: we have the utter chaos of World War II giving rise to an austere nuclear wasteland.  You have to turn the volume up to 11 in the final movement just to hear anything.  Crap, now I’m depressed.  Score: 84

Schubert Symphony #6, “Little”

This is a transitional piece.  It’s as if Schubert was tired of being a faux-Mozart and wanted to go in a new direction.  That new direction was to be a faux-Beethoven.  Still, the melodies are superb.   Score: 80

Bax Symphony #6

The last of the 6’s is Bax’s 6th, which almost sounds like the soundtrack to a Conan movie.  That’s not meant to be derogatory; the music is muscular, modal.  There’s meat on these bones.  And gristle.  Score: 81


X = 7

Beethoven Symphony #7

Not much can be said about the 7th that hasn’t already been said.  For a while, I was obsessed with the slow movement—maybe the best Romantic slow movement ever written.  (Speaking of which, why are Classical slow movements, like Mozart’s, so boring?)  The finale is vigorous.  Score: 93

Sibelius Symphony #7

Forget what I said about Sibelius #5.  This is the best symphony ever written.  I could listen to the opening 7 minutes on infinite loop, no joke.  And the mysterious, abrupt ending makes a transition to C major seem (somehow) like a defeat!  Note that some conductors wimp out and change the ending, which I consider heresy.  Stick to Vänskä’s interpretation.  Score: 100

Mahler Symphony #7

The Mahler #7 is not part of the Mahlerian mush: I recall this one in more detail.  It’s strange, bleak, demonic.  It makes me think of the movie The Descent.  The ending always strikes me as a tad absurd, though.  There’s a dawn-like triumph into C major.  The entire work is good, but rather incoherent and naïve.  Score: 85

Bruckner Symphony #7

Bruckner’s just plodding along, cranking out solid Brucknerian symphonies.  The 7th is memorable (to me) for its wonderful Adagio.  Hitler is said to have liked the 7th, but fuck it, I like it too.  Score: 86

Shostakovich Symphony #7, “Leningrad”

I didn’t understand this when I first heard it.  But then repeated listening have carved out a channel in my brain where this symphony resides.  The first movement dominates: the “invasion” theme is ridiculous, almost a joke, but then it gets repeated over and over, louder and louder, until it’s scary and threatens to take over the world.  This is Trump’s ascension, portrayed in music.  The good news is that in the 7th, at least, good triumphs, and all is restored by the end. Score: 90

Image result for Siege of Leningrad. Diorama at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War of St. Petersburg.

Dvorak Symphony #7

OK, it’s not just Mahler; the Dvorak symphonies aren’t too distinct in my mind, either.  I just know that the 7th is my favorite other than the 9th.  (Come to think of it, that’s like Beethoven.)  Score: 89

Prokofiev Symphony #7

I’m floundering to get a total of ten 7’s.  This one’s pretty good: quite melancholy, with echoes of Shostakovich.  The Prokofiev flair for drama and violence is there, too.  Score: 83

Bax Symphony #7

The Bax #7 is theatrical, and galactic in ambition.  Think: Star Trek.  It almost wants to be a sequel to Holst’s The Planets.  It’s only moderately successful in that ambition.  Score: 79

Piston Symphony #7

Walter Piston’s #7 is, like Bax #7, very cinematic.  But this one owes more to Copeland than Holst.  I don’t know which #7 I prefer.  Score: 79

Haydn Symphony #7, “Le Midi”

A total throwaway; it’s fine, such as it is, but not even in Haydn’s top 10.  Still, there aren’t that many Symphony #7’s to choose from.  Score: 65


X = 8

Dvorak Symphony #8

I’m listening to this right now.  It’s like a happier version of the 7th.  It’s mature.  It’s like a hike for grown-ups. Score: 82

Bruckner Symphony #8

Some call this “The Apocalyptic”.  Seems a fitting description.  It’s one of my “go-to” selections, matching any mood I feel.  I especially enjoy the timpani in the Scherzo, and the finale has gravitas.  Score:  92

Image result for apocalypse

Mahler Symphony #8

Mahler’s attempt at a gargantuan choral symphony, a la Beethoven’s 9th.  It starts right up in there (no beating around the bush; the chorus is rarin’ to go!) but it all eventually bogs down.  Score: 81

Schubert Symphony #8, “Unfinished”

Pristine; maybe even flawless.  The first movement is rich, lyrical, pretty, and almost menacing…like an elf who stabs you in the kidney.  The second movement is all peace and kittens.  Score: 86

Shostakovich Symphony #8

A tragic symphony from Shostakovich (surprise, surprise).  It’s heavy, oppressive.  When you’re done listening, you feel like you spent a vacation in East Germany.  The muted triumph at the end feels like walking across Checkpoint Charlie into safety.  Score: 87

Beethoven Symphony #8  

I’ll take the word of experts and say this is “good”.  But I don’t really enjoy it.  It’s hard to like.  Did Louie forget he even wrote the 5th and the 7th?  Score: 71

Vaughn Williams Symphony #8

Here is music for the Elohim, those of Donaldson’s The One Tree.  I want to use Donaldson words to describe the symphony: “…as edifying as crystal, as clinquant as faery promises…but obdurate, uncompromising.  [Full of] whorled and skirling shapes…”  Vaughn Williams is channeling both Copeland and Hovhaness here; the orchestration is inventive.  But that ending is Who’s in Whoville!  Score: 84

Glass Symphony #8

The rest of the 8’s are reaches, to be sure.  This one’s typical Philip Glass, which is all you need to know.  It’s interesting, but not much of a “symphony”.  Score: 72

Kabeláč Symphony #8, “Antiphonies”

Pretty obscure, I know.  Basically, a half hour of horror music, written by a madman.  Score: 71

Brian Symphony #8

Another shout-out to Havergal Brian, who wrote so many symphonies he needs to be on the list twice.  This one is decent enough.  Score: 74


X = 9

Beethoven Symphony #9

At various times in my life, this has been my favorite symphony.  It encompasses all of human experience.  If you’re only familiar with the Ode to Joy, listen to the rest.  There’s an hour of great music in there before the people start singing.  My only (minor) complaint is that the finale goes on maybe 5 minutes too long.  Score: 98

Bruckner Symphony #9

Perhaps the symphony I connect to the most on an emotional level.  The opening movement’s great, and the scherzo is sinister and delicate at the same time.  But it’s the unresolved harmonies of the “finale” that choke me up.  Score: 97

Dvorak Symphony #9, “From the New World”

Might be the most rousing, and “catchiest”, of the symphonies.  I can hum the theme of every movement.  Sing along to the Largo: “Crisp and clean, no caffeine, cool refreshing beverage…”  And it ends with Jaws.  Score: 91

Image result for zion national park

Mahler Symphony #9

My second-favorite Mahler symphony, this is Mahler’s farewell to life.  Good times.  The finale reminiscent of Bruckner’s 9th.  Score: 89

Schubert Symphony #9, “The Great”

It’s the first movement that you’ll remember, which takes its time to build to one of the most triumphant expositions in the symphonic canon.  I can’t get the pulsing sextuplets out of my brain!  If this music doesn’t make you feel anything, you might want to check your pulse.  Score: 95

Shostakovich Symphony #9

A cheeky symphony.  It’s like Shostakovich smoked some weed, got high, and tried to emulate Mozart.  Does the 1st movement come across as goofy, or sinister?  Maybe it’s a little of both.    Then, WTF?  The rest of the symphony is different in tone: more serious.  The ending is vigorous and off-putting.  I have no idea what’s going on here.  But I like it.  Score: 85

Vaughn Williams Symphony #9 

Speaking of not knowing what’s going on here…  There is undefinable strangeness in this symphony.  But also lyricism.  Is this a battle of modalism vs. melody?  I have no idea.  Score: 73

Glass Symphony #9

We’re running out of 9’s… So… How about Glass #9?  It’s better than the 8th.   It’s qloomy, but not as minimalist as most other Glass works.  I want to say it even starts channeling Bruckner and Sibelius later in.  Score: 80

Haydn Symphony #9

A total throwaway.  Yet there’s a paucity of Symphony #9’s, so Haydn makes the list.  You really want to listen to a Haydn symphony, try #26, or #39, or #49, or #82, or #88.  Score: 60

Hovhaness Symphony #9, “St. Vartan”

Another throw-away.  You really want to listen to a Hovhaness symphony, try #2, or #22, or #50, or #63.  Score: 67


Before we tabulate the results, here are some honorable mentions with higher X-numbers:

X = 10

Mahler Symphony #10 [unfinished]

Shostakovich Symphony #10

X = 11

Shostakovich Symphony #11, “The Year 1905”

X = 12

Shostakovich Symphony #12, “The Year 1917”

X = 15

Shostakovich Symphony #15

X = 25

Mozart Symphony #25 in G minor

X = 26

Haydn Symphony #26, “Lamentatione”

X = 29

Mozart Symphony #29 in A major

X = 35

Mozart Symphony #35, “Haffner”

X = 38

Mozart Symphony #38, “Prague”

X = 39

Mozart Symphony #39 in E flat major

X = 40

Mozart Symphony #40 in G minor

X = 41

Mozart Symphony #41, “Jupiter”

X = 49

Haydn Symphony #49, “La Passione”

X = 50

Hovhaness Symphony #50, “Mt. St. Helens”

X = 88

Haydn Symphony #88 in G major


Here, then, are the average scores for the ten symphonies in each X-number:

#1: Average score: 82

#2: Average score: 82.4

#3: Average score: 83.6

#4: Average score: 84.8

#5: Average score: 88.3 The Winner!

#6: Average score: 81

#7: Average score: 84.9

#8: Average score: 80

#9: Average score: 83.5


The gold medal goes, without a doubt, to X=5.  The silver goes to X=7, and the bronze to (surprisingly) X=4.

Notice how scores go up steadily, as composers perfect their craft.  There’s a drop-off after 5, I think, because fewer and fewer composers write that many symphonies in their careers.

One final note: three composers had every one of their symphonies make my list: Sibelius, Beethoven, and Mahler.  In terms of average score, Sibelius (92.4) beats Mahler (82.6) who beats Beethoven (81.3).  Bruckner misses out because I didn’t include his 2nd; Tchaikovsky misses out because I didn’t include his 3rd.  C’est la vie.


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