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Thread: Greatest symphonic movements

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    Default Greatest symphonic movements

    More often than not, a piece of classical music is defined, or recognized I should say, by a single movement, or even just a single melodic line, rather than the entire piece as a whole.

    Yet it's interesting how a piece of music, while not obvious when listening to it at first, is part of a greater whole; it involves much more than that single melody, single theme. I"ve always wondered whether the composer envisioned ONLY the grand picture, or hoped to differentiate the pieces and fit them together, still autonomous, but united -- think the United States geopolitical system.

    Just for interest sake, what are some of your favorite single movements in symphonic pieces, or any for that matter? Do you find these specific movements FAR greater than the piece as a whole, or merely another complimentary part?


    Just to begin with a few...

    I've found Brahms 4th movement in his Symphony No.3 to be absolutely powerful. It has it's own unique intro, a dominant climax and a cathartic fade away that both resolves the entire piece and it's singular presentation(movement) -- sort of a story within a story, yet stronger than the whole piece put together. The ending brings back the opening theme from the first movement, but it's hardly made in the same emotion. Simply daunting on it's own.

    The first movement in Mahler's first symphony is quite...monumental, I would say -- especially considering it is his entrance to the symphony realm. One hell of a way to enter. The manner in which the piece creeps in on some haunting, eerie chord, only to move through both bliss and pain, and as it continues (at least here) I only beg for more of the lively struggle that the melody seems to endure as it comes to an end. There's a feeling of some sort of release, yet barely makes up for the strewn-out middle portion -- almost feels like suffering. I believe it's been dubbed "Titan," though I'm not certain (anyone sure?). I think it's fitting for the power I get from this movement alone.


    I would anticipate movements such as Beethoven's first in his Sym.No.5 or final movement in Sym.No.9 have their very own tale, working perfectly on their own, without need for any outside influence or support.


    Interested if anyone sees movements seperately like this as well, or at least appreciates specific movements (sometimes) over the piece as whole.

    I'd love to hear everyone's opinions.

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    Senior Member Truckload's Avatar
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    Great topic. I often feel there is a single movement that "stands out" as truly exemplar of a composer or work. There are several that come to mind, but first I offer for your consideration Mahler's 5th Symphony, 4th movement, "Sehr langsam." This beautiful, poignant and emotionally moving piece never fails to leave me shattered and drained. Oddly enough, Mahler, usually such a creative orchestrator, uses only the strings and harp. Also, the harmonic language is only mildly chromatic, compared to Mahlers usual extreme chromaticism. Yet without Mahler's signature harmonic and orchestration extremes it is as if we are seeing into his very soul, and by extension into the soul of all mankind.
    Last edited by Truckload; Apr-15-2012 at 18:31.

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    From Beethoven I like the finale of the 7th the most. Unfortunately most conductors don't repeat of the exposition, which Beethoven was militant about in conducting his symphonies. Luckily Kleiber, with one of the strongest interpretations of this movement, takes all repetitions.
    Bruckner's 7th has a very powerful 2nd movement. The finale of its 1st movement is also amazing (the 4th movement has a similar finale). The 3rd movement of his 9th symphony is very powerful. The same could be said about the finales of his 4th and 8th symphonies.
    I also think that the finale of Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony is one of the greatest movements ever written.
    The scherzo of Schubert's 9th symphony is one of his most brilliant movements.

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    Sometimes movements are meant to be treated 'separately'. For instance, Mahler intended a brief interval of 5 minutes after the first movement of the 2nd symphony, though people rarely do this in practice. It is an amazing movement though - I got into that movement before getting into the rest of the symphony.

    However, I also like it when a symphony's movements are inter-dependent. A good example I can think of is Dvorak 9, each movement quotes all of its antecedents as well as introducing new themes.

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    Senior Member Olias's Avatar
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    My top symphonic movements (no particular order):

    Haydn 88/4 - Its just so darn cute
    Mozart 36/4 - like fizzy champagne
    Mozart 40/1 - it was a dark and stormy night
    Mozart 41/4 - 3 words.....quintuple inverted counterpoint
    Beethoven 3/1 - the movement that changed everything
    Beethoven 7/2 - haunting and beautiful
    Beethoven 7/4 - one wild ride
    Brahms 4/3 - like a drinking song at the docks
    Dvorak 8/4 - Czech rock and roll
    Dvorak 9/4 - heard it a billion times and it still moves me
    Shostakovich 5/4 - the ultimate protest music
    Copland 3/1 - gorgeous through and through
    Bernstein 1/2 - Jewish music that swings

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    Senior Member peeyaj's Avatar
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    Schubert' Unfinished - !st movement

    Schubert 'Great C major - 1st, 2nd and 4th movement

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    I suggest the fourth movement of Mahler 6 for its combination of a compelling, integrated structure over an extended time period (half an hour) - not something you can say about all of Mahler's long movements - and powerful emotional sweep.

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    The legion of standout movements is vast, of course. And in general, I prefer not to dissect symphonies (well, in analysing them, sure; but in listening to them, or evaluating them, no). But, some movements seem to stand out because the composer has clearly intended them to do that.

    With that in mind, the finale of Bruckner 5th comes to mind. It takes all that has preceded it and puts it into a new place. It has a logic that is frightening; a symmetry that is fearful; a feeling that the inorganic, non-human forces of the universe are pushing you to destroy yourself by using an irresistable, Socratic rhetoric.

    The finale of Beethoven 9th of course takes us into a new place - Oh friends! not these tones! Perhaps it was this work that created the very idea of a huge "standout movement"? The finale of Mahler 2nd pummels us to submission like Chuck Norris wrestling with an alligator. The alligator has no chance - we have to surrender. The 1st movement of Brahms 1st presents such a weighty musical problem that I sometimes think that no matter how hard the following movements try to solve it, something of the problem remains. And Mahler 3rd has this strange quality that both the 1st and last movements feel instinctive; they feel as if there's no conscious mind behind the music, whereas the middle movements feel like they are, indeed, "conscious".
    Wäre das Faktum wahr, – wäre der außerordentliche Fall wirklich eingetreten, daß die politische Gesetzgebung der Vernunft übertragen, der Mensch als Selbstzweck respektiert und behandelt, das Gesetz auf den Thron erhoben, und wahre Freiheit zur Grundlage des Staatsgebäudes gemacht worden, so wollte ich auf ewig von den Musen Abschied nehmen, und dem herrlichsten aller Kunstwerke, der Monarchie der Vernunft, alle meine Thätigkeit widmen.

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    Member gr8gunz's Avatar
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    Solti's recording with CSO back in the 70's took all repeats in all movements. I just happen to like this recording of the nine the best of all. It has also been released on CD recently.

    beethoven9solti.jpg

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    Junior Member Symphonical's Avatar
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    My favourite symphonic movements:

    Beethoven 3/IV
    Beethoven 6/II
    Beethoven 7/II & IV
    Beethoven 9/Them all
    Mahler 1/II
    Mahler 2/I
    Mahler 5/III & V
    Mahler 6/I
    Mahler 7/V
    Tchaikovsky 4/IV
    Tchaikovsky 5/IV
    Dvorak 9/IV
    Sibelius 5/III
    Mendelssohn 4/IV
    Mozart 40/I & IV
    Mozart 41/V

    The Beethoven 9 is interesting because it would just not be the same without any of the movements, and even though the 'symphony-within-a-symphony' of a finale is one of the best symphonic movements ever written, I absolutely love every movement. Whereas, in the other symphonies mentioned above, I believe that their best movements do stand out more than the others.
    Last edited by Symphonical; Jan-22-2014 at 18:53.

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    Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique 5th movement
    Tchaikovksy symphony 5 1st movement
    Tchaikovsky symphony 6 4th movement <3
    Dvorak new world symphony also 4th movement (even though I love the first and second the last one is just so epic that I could jump of excitement and joy)
    Mahler 3 last movement
    Mahler 5 first movement
    Rachmaninov symphony 1 first movement
    Rachmaninov 2 third movement <3
    Prokofiev 4 second movement
    Prokofiev 3 first movement
    Prokofiev 5 first mvt
    Prokofiev 6 first mvt
    Shostakovich 5 4th movement
    Shostakovich 10 4th movement
    Shostakovich 11 2nd movement

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    One of my favorite symphonic movements in the opening movement of Schubert's Great 9th Symphony ESPECIALLY as performed in the great recording by Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. Many times I just play the first movement by itself. It can stand alone!
    Facts don't care about your feelings.

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    Beethovens 9th , 1st movement.
    chills
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    The first movement of Wagner's Die Walküre is de bomb!*

    *The entire first act!!!
    Last edited by hpowders; Jan-23-2014 at 04:13.
    Facts don't care about your feelings.

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