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Thread: Who wrote the best 9th symphony?

  1. #16
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    Beethoven, Mahler, Dvorak, Schubert and Bruckner composed the best 9ths.

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    Junior Member DBLee's Avatar
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    I greatly admire Beethoven's 9th, but I really have to be in the mood to listen to it beginning to end.

    I would pick Dvorak's and Schubert's as my personal favorite 9th symphonies. Both of them are very close to perfection, constantly engaging the listener.

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    Mine are

    Dvorak
    Beethoven
    Shostakovich(favourite of all his symphonies)
    Schubert
    Bruckner(favourite of all his symphonies)

    These are what springs to mind

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    Havergal Brian :-)

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    Senior Member Tchaikov6's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Judith View Post
    Mine are

    Dvorak
    Beethoven
    Shostakovich(favourite of all his symphonies)
    Schubert
    Bruckner(favourite of all his symphonies)

    These are what springs to mind
    I loved the Shostakovich, but unfortunately I played it in my orchestra for nearly a year (we had to keep repeating it at different concerts). By the end of that year, I had grown sick and tired of the piece. Perhaps I will love it someday again as much as I did.

    My favorite five in order:
    Dvorak
    Beethoven
    Bruckner
    Schubert
    Mahler

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    It should be acknowledged that most, if not all composers since 1824 (the year of the premiere of Beethoven's 9th) have approached their ninth symphony with an awareness of the universal acceptance of Beethoven's ninth as a 'masterpiece', and that it marked the end of his symphonic cycle. Therefore, it must be a daunting task for any composer to begin sketching out ideas for a 9th symphony. Not only because they can't help but be aware that they're competing with Beethoven (and subsequently Mahler, Bruckner, etc.), but also because 9ths have so often proven to be a composer's last symphony. It is known as "the curse of Beethoven" or "the curse of the ninth". To varying degrees, I expect most (post-Beethoven) composers face their own mortality while composing a 9th symphony--except those that were unusually prolific in their careers and reached this milestone earlier in their lives.

    To my mind, composing a cycle of 9+ symphonies that stand the test of time is an extraordinary creative feat and achievement, as well as a major test of a composer's determination, persistence, endurance & sheer talent. Especially when you consider that so many masterful symphonic composers didn't make it to their 9ths: including Sibelius at 7 (with an 8th symphony rumored to have been tossed into the fireplace at Ainola), Brahms at 4, Schumann at 4, Mendelssohn at 5 numbered symphonies, with existing sketches for a 6th (if you don't count his 12 early string symphonies), Tchaikovsky at 6 (plus his 'Manfred' Symphony), Rachmaninoff 3 (plus The Bells, Op. 35), Saint-Saens 5 (although only 3 are numbered), Elgar 2, Nielsen 6, Bruch 3, Roussel 4, Szymanowski 4, Stravinsky 3 (plus his "Symphony of Psalms"), Ives 4 or 5--if you count "New England Holidays" (with the "Universe" Symphony left unfinished at his death), Magnard 4, Kokkonen 4 (with a 5th left unfinished), Hanson 7, Prokofiev 7, Lutoslawski 4, Honegger 5, Martinu 6, Scriabin 3, Berwald 4, Rimsky-Korsakov 3, Ropartz 5, etc.. All of which puts into perspective just how difficult it is to compose 9+ symphonies of a high musical quality.

    Among those composers that did get to their 9th, a good number did so towards the end of their life--often at the very end, with the realization that death was close at hand--such as (1) Anton Bruckner, who didn't live to finish the final movement of his 9th; (2) Gustav Mahler, who didn't live to conduct his 9th: the 9th being the only one of his 9 completed symphonies that Mahler never conducted or heard performed, though he left instructions for Bruno Walter & Oskar Fried to do so, on subsequent nights. Curiously, Mahler did compose his "song symphony"--"Das Lied von der Erde"--after finishing 8 symphonies, but was so acutely aware of the "curse of the ninth" and that no major composer since Beethoven had gone past nine--at the time--that he decided not to make it a numbered symphony: although he did call it "A Symphony for Tenor, Alto, and Large Orchestra". Then, ironically, after Mahler finished his numbered 9th symphony, he died while composing his 10th; (3) Ralph Vaughan Williams, who died three weeks after the 2nd performance of his 9th, on the very day that the symphony was due to be recorded for the first time by Sir Adrian Boult; (4) Franz Schubert, who finished his "grand" 9th symphony in 1825: a year after the premiere of Beethoven's 9th, during a summer when Schubert's ill health unexpectedly went into remission, some three years before he passed away: hence Schubert's deathly illness had made him aware of his own mortality; (5) Malcolm Arnold, who though he lived until 2006, had been given only a year to live by his doctors prior to finishing his 9th Symphony in the 1986. While Antonin Dvorak, who lived another 11 years after composing his "New World" 9th Symphony, nevertheless, found himself under the spell of Beethoven's 9th during its composition--most evident in the Scherzo, and after that, never composed another symphony.

    Considering that 9ths have often proven to be the concluding chapter of a composer's symphony cycle and life, I imagine most composers approach this work with a certain degree of trepidation, and awareness that it could be their last symphony, or swan song. Not surprisingly, the challenge has brought out the best in many composers, whose powers seem to become especially heightened and focused towards creating a masterpiece that will endure.

    For this, we surely have Beethoven to thank, as he set the standard high. Although he was also the first composer to leave a 10th symphony unfinished at his death, a tradition that was regrettably followed by Schubert & Mahler.

    Composer Arnold Schoenberg had this say on the subject:

    "It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter."

    Hence, when I listen to a 9th symphony for the first time, I come to it with a sense of high expectation and excitement. I'm not usually disappointed either. Rather, I've found that composers often do rise to the challenge posed by Beethoven, to create one of their finest works.

    Among modern composers, there have been a number of 9ths that are worth mentioning, not only as remarkable works, but also in the context of the points I've been making about "the curse of the 9th":

    Take for example the Danish composer Vagn Holmboe. Holmboe composed his masterful 8th Symphony "Sinfonia boreale" in 1951. Yet it took him another 16 years to finish his 9th symphony in 1967 (a 5 movement work). To show how conscious Holmboe was of the importance of the 9th within his symphony cycle, during its 16 year gestation, Holmboe originally presented his "Sinfonia in memoriam", Op. 65, as his 9th Symphony in 1955, only to later withdraw it, and then presented the third Epilog of his "Four Symphonic Metamorphoses" as his 9th Symphony, only to again later withdraw that work, before finally finishing his numbered 9th in 1967. All this second guessing suggests that Holmboe felt an unusual degree of the pressure towards delivering a 9th of considerable stature, and that he must have found it a nerve racking task. Yet the struggle was worth it, as Holmboe's 9th & 10th symphonies represent an evolution in the composer's orchestral technique--which he called "symphonic metamorphosis". (Although Holmboe's 5th, 7th & 8th symphonies are certainly mature works in their own right, in my view). After that, Holmboe went on to compose a total of 13 symphonies.

    https://www.chandos.net/products/catalogue/BI%200618

    Among other modern composers, the 9th also brought out the best in American composer, Vincent Persichetti. Persichetti's Symphony No. 9, eerily entitled "Janiculum", after a hill in Rome, Italy, which is thought to be the site of St. Peter's crucifixion and an earlier center for the cult of the god Janus, was composed in 1969, and is a remarkable work, and masterfully orchestrated. It's Pershichetti's final symphony, so he too can be added to the long list of composers that didn't get beyond their 9th:



    The 9th also brought out the best in American composer, William Schuman (although Schuman did go on to finish his 10th symphony):



    As well as Vaughan Williams (who stopped at 9), Malcolm Arnold (who likewise stopped at 9), and Allan Pettersson (who went on to compose 8 more symphonies after his 9th):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByvpHg4oAkc
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awIxuj_DCsw
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO_SxlgDBfA

    As for my favorite post-Beethoven 9ths, here's a list of my top 20 (with Beethoven's 9th included):

    1. L.V. Beethoven
    2. Gustav Mahler
    3. Anton Bruckner
    4. Franz Schubert
    5. Antonin Dvorak
    6. Ralph Vaughan Williams
    7. Eduard Tubin: his "Sinfonia semplice": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwED...19p2vRJbvl7jx5
    8. Vagn Holmboe
    9. Vincent Persichetti
    10. William Schuman
    11. Allan Pettersson
    12. Dmitri Shostakovich
    13. Ib Nørholm (the only living composer on my list, with 12 symphonies now completed): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGza86Ck4WY
    14. Peter Mennin (yet another composer that didn't go beyond 9): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iasO7aZAfKY
    15. Alexandre Tansman (who likewise didn't get to his 10th).
    16. Edmund Rubbra: his "Sinfonia Sacra, op. 140: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DV_8...854bdRScax_7eK
    17. Roy Harris
    18. Malcolm Arnold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awIxuj_DCsw
    19. Robert Simpson: https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA66299. Here's the final movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlJkv5URiEU
    20. My last pick is a tough choice, but after some indecisiveness, I'll go with Hans Werner Henze's choral 9th, entitled "Den Helden und Märtyrern des deutschen Antifaschismus gewidmet": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIll...0CC54CF0BD8225

    Some honorable mentions (that I was considering for my last pick, alongside Henze's 9th): Kurt Atterberg (who was another composer that didn't get to 10, his 9th being another choral symphony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNvRrYtMp8E), Darius Milhaud, Julius Röntgen:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa8gp2o-w0s , Sir Andrzej Panufnik: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klntYJCg9SA, Joachim Raff, whose 9th is entitled, "In Summer": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWlgml1Rm9E, and Havergal Brian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qiNg1dHdkY.

    For anyone who's interested, here's a (I hope valuable, useful) list of Romantic era & modern/contemporary composers that have reached the milestone of a 9th symphony: Peter Maxwell Davies 10 (although I prefer Davies' 10th to his 9th:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOc3RrbFBEI), Peter Mennin 9, Robert Simpson 11, Roger Sessons 9, Leif Segerstam 327 (& counting, no, that's not a misprint), Kurt Atterberg 9, Rued Langgaard 16, Eduard Tubin 11 (though Tubin's 11th was left unfinished at his death), Phillip Glass 11 (& counting), Alan Hovhaness 67 (his 9th is entitled "St. Vartan"), Hilding Rosenberg 9 (nine, if we count his withdrawn no. 0), Erkki-Sven Tüür 9 (& counting), Darius Milhaud 12, Louis Theodore Gouvy 9, Henry Cowell 20, Alexandre Tansman 9, Roy Harris 15, Edmund Rubbra 11, Dmitri Shostakovich 15, Vagn Holmboe 13, William Schuman 10, Allan Pettersson 17, Mieczyslaw Weinberg 20, George Lloyd 12 (who remained undaunted by the curse of the 9th: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWCls9RNfxM), Sir Andrzej Panufnik 10, David Diamond 11 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmvEAuI8Zn0), Malcolm Arnold 9, Hans Werner Henze 10, Ib Nørholm 12 (& counting), David Matthews 9 (& counting), Vincent Persichetti 9, Kalevi Aho at 17 (& counting), Louis Spohr 10, Joachim Raff 11, Julius Röntgen 21, Nikolai Myaskovsky 27, Havergal Brian 32, and Alfred Schnittke at 9 (yet another victim of "the curse of the ninth", although there is some disagreement about whether Schnittke finished his 9th, due to suffering a stroke and being forced to write with his left hand, which made the score difficult to decipher. Alexander Raskatov was asked to "reconstruct" the symphony.)

    Walter Piston came close at 8, as did Einar Englund at 7, Einojuhani Rautavaara at 8, and George Rochberg at 6. Sir Michael Tippett finished at 4; as did Witold Lutoslawski. Kryztopf Penderecki is currently at 8, and apparently intends to write a 9th. Aulus Sallinen composed his 8th Symphony in 2001, but so far no 9th. Finally, Per Norgard is up to 8 now, as of 2011, while Paavo Heininen is at 6, as of 2015, Charles Wuorinen at 8, as of 2006, John Corigliano at 2, Wolfgang Rihm at 2, John Harbison at 6, Arvo Part at 4, Harri Vuori at 2, and Tobias Picker at 3. Surprisingly, Magnus Lindberg hasn't composed a symphony to date (though, like Vuori, he studied with Rautavaara and Heininen--both formidable symphonic composers). Nor has Kaija Saariaho, Esa-Pekka Salonen, or Anders Hillborg, either.

    Prior to Beethoven, there were a number of prominent composers that reached 9 (& in some cases, went well beyond it): including Michael Haydn at 41, W.A.Mozart at 41 numbered symphonies (with additional symphonies of doubtful authenticity--maybe around 50 in total?), F.J. Haydn 104 (actually it's 106), Johann Christian Bach at around 23 (but with many lost symphonies), Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach at around 20, Johann Stamitz 58, Joseph Martin Kraus at 12 (though its actually over 20, since many of his symphonies are now lost), and Giovanni Battista Sammartini at about 70. However, in the case of Kraus, Sammartini, and both J.C. & C.P.E. Bach, I'm not confident that I could accurately say which symphony is their 9th (due to their lost symphonies & the numbering of fragments, alternative movements, etc,). Wilhelm Friedemann Bach stopped at 8, but that had nothing to do with 'the curse of ninth', or did it?

    Here's a list of my favorite 5 pre-Beethoven 9ths:

    1. W.A. Mozart:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh8LxxhGjfU
    2. F.J. Haydn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd6Uab3oy5E
    3. Michael Haydn:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JDQF3oCBVQ
    4. Joseph Martin Kraus--his Symphony in D major, VB 143?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xir3ilF9wxw
    5. Giovanni Battista Sammartini--J-C 4, or is it J-C 9?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IWd...mKZI0oqSMdE_qM
    Last edited by Josquin13; Nov-10-2018 at 00:55.

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  9. #22
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    A lengthy but interesting treatise! But a question. You write, "(4) Franz Schubert, who finished his "grand" 9th symphony in 1825: a year after the premiere of Beethoven's 9th..."

    I've read that the "lost" 7th Symphony of Schubert probably never existed. If that's so, then wouldn't Schubert have written only eight symphonies? Still not bad for somebody who died at 31!


  10. #23
    Senior Member Azol's Avatar
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    Bruckner and Mahler.
    Otherwise, I would say the greatest Ninth hasn't been composed yet...

  11. #24
    Senior Member DeepR's Avatar
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    Bruckner, Anton Bruckner.

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    KenOC writes, "I've read that the "lost" 7th Symphony of Schubert probably never existed. If that's so, then wouldn't Schubert have written only eight symphonies? Still not bad for somebody who died at 31!"

    It depends on who's numbering the symphonies, as different editors have given Schubert's symphonies different numbers, and there have been disagreements about which to number or not. Schubert left all of his last 4 symphonies in various states of incompletion, except for the "Great" symphony in C major, D. 944, plus there are fragments to symphonies that he didn't finish. So it can get confusing.

    For instance, Johannes Brahms, working as an editor for Breitkopf & Härtel, numbered the "Great" C major D 944 as Schubert's 7th Symphony, and his 8th as the D. 759 "Unfinished". While musicologist Sir George Grove numbered the "Great" C major as Schubert's 8th Symphony and his D. 759 "Unfinished" as his 7th Symphony. & so on. In total, there are 7 completed symphonies by Schubert (which includes the "Great" C major), plus an unfinished 7th in E major, D. 729 & 8th in B minor, D. 759, and piano sketches for three movements to an unfinished "last" symphony in D major, D. 936a (his 10th), which was recorded by Schubert's brother, Ferdinand, before the composer's death. The 10th is the work scholars sometimes refer to as Schubert's "lost" symphony. Plus, there are additional fragments to other symphonies as well, if I remember right (D. 615 and D. 708a).

    The generally accepted order of Schubert's symphonies today is as follows (according to Wikipedia):

    No. 1, D major, D. 82
    No. 2, B-flat major, D. 125
    No. 3, D major, D. 200
    No. 4, C minor "Tragic", D. 417
    No. 5, B-flat major, D. 485
    No. 6, C major, "Little C major"
    No. 7, E major, D. 729--all four movements are finished in sketches, but Schubert didn't score them entirely--which has resulted in various completions by others--John Francis Barnett in 1881, Felix Weingartner in 1934, and Brian Newbould in 1980. The manuscript was bequeathed to the Royal College of Music in London by Sir George Grove. Interestingly, it had been previously owned by Felix Mendelssohn, who'd been given the manuscript by Schubert's brother.
    No. 8, B minor, D. 759 "Unfinished"--2 complete movements, and an unfinished Scherzo 3rd movement.
    No. 9, C major, D. 944 "Great" C major
    No. 10, D major, D. 936a--there are piano sketches for three movements.

    As for the "lost" 7th that "never existed", I believe you're referring to the "Gmunden-Gastein Symphony", which was once thought to be lost, and was called the 7th (as with the 9th), but today it is thought to be identical with the "Great" C major Symphony, since Schubert composed his "grand" symphony in Gastein.

    I hope that I've sufficiently answered your question, Ken.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Nov-10-2018 at 10:30.

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  14. #26
    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    The best 9th? I'm afraid I'm not qualified to answer that, and I don't know who is.

    If the consensus is Beethoven, then so be it. The reasons are obvious.

    Personal favourite? Schubert. It resonates so deeply for me, particularly the wondrous scherzo. I saw it live last week, and I was reassured that I wasn't the only person wiping a little irritation from their eye.

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