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Thread: Which composers wrote the best Symphonies?

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    Senior Member Clouds Weep Snowflakes's Avatar
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    Default Which composers wrote the best Symphonies?

    There's a great variaty here, so which do you like?

    I love Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky the most, Beethoven is just basic, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky just feel the Romantic area vibe in the very positive way for me.

    Oh, and check these out (I have the CD):

    Last edited by Clouds Weep Snowflakes; Jul-15-2019 at 00:25.

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    Senior Member Littlephrase1913's Avatar
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    At the top of my head, my conservative list of elite symphonists (outside of the three you mentioned) would be:

    Mahler
    Sibelius
    Bruckner
    Shostakovich
    Prokofiev
    Brahms
    Nielsen
    Dvorak
    Schubert
    And of couse, Papa Haydn

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of exceptional symphonists out there to explore.
    Last edited by Littlephrase1913; Jul-15-2019 at 03:48.

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    Depends (even from a subjective point of view) whether you are mainly looking at highlights in a composer's collected symphonies, or whether you also want to look at consistently high levels of quality.

    For me, taking arbitrarily the best three as the highlights, the top 5 would be:

    Highlights:
    Brahms, Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler, Shostakovich

    Consistency:
    Bax, Brahms, Mahler, Schmidt, Sibelius
    Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen! Ewig ... ewig ...

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Best symphonies? Haydn, Mozart (why haven't these two been mentioned?), Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Sibelius and Nielsen. Of the more recent composers many have written a decent symphony or two but I wouldn't really think of them as symphonists except perhaps Maxwell Davies. Shostakovich was a symphonist, I'm sure, and with a few great ones in his output ... but I don't rate half of his symphonies that highly (I would be happy with 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 13 and 14).

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    Of the more recent composers many have written a decent symphony or two but I wouldn't really think of them as symphonists except perhaps Maxwell Davies.
    Aho, Rautavaara, Sallinen, Norgard, to name a few.
    Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen! Ewig ... ewig ...

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    Senior Member Brahmsian Colors's Avatar
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    Best, as in favorite: Brahms, Dvorak, Mahler, Sibelius.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Art Rock View Post
    Aho, Rautavaara, Sallinen, Norgard, to name a few.
    I might have thought of Norgard as of interest in a thread on "the best symphonies" but the others have not been very consistent.

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I might have thought of Norgard as of interest in a thread on "the best symphonies" but the others have not been very consistent.
    As always, a matter of taste.
    Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen! Ewig ... ewig ...

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    Ask the same person after 1, 5, 10, 20 ... years listening experience who are their favourite symphonists and the answers will probably be different each time, at least the order will be.

    Currently, mine are Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius.

    On a more objective basis, there are several others who should be included: Haydn, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Nielsen, Vaughan Williams. All these have been in my favourites list at one time or other, but not now.
    Last edited by Partita; Jul-16-2019 at 13:15.

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    Of course, identifying "the best symphonies" will remain a purely subjective endeavor, even, one thinks, if a set of objective criteria is established: strictest use of sonata form, most varied instrumentation, greatest contrast (within a relationship) of the dynamic and the lyrical themes …. (And the astute among you can already see that the "objective" criteria for those three categories alone is rather subjective. Must the sonata form be "strict"? Must instrumentation be "varied" -- can a solo organ symphony, as by Widor, qualify as a "best symphony"? Do the two themes have to be both related and yet contrasting? Cannot a three themed symphony, as one, say, by Bruckner, qualify as a "best symphony"?) So … it seems more productive to let this one lie and to, rather than postulate a list of "best symphonies", simply listen to a few symphonies and appreciate them on your own terms. (And we needn't get into whether a symphony is colored by its performers, the orchestra and the conductor, who may vary in levels of skill, judgment, and competency … as well as the hall venue or, in case of a recording, the engineering staff …. Much to consider.)

    A symphony can be analyzed on paper to see how it works within the "rules" of music or of the form itself. (I recall being consulted by a young music student studying for her Masters who was given the task of analyzing a section of Mahler's Eighth Symphony in terms of thematic structural relationships ….) What one sees on paper may prove to be a rather substantial and well-defined "symphony", but it may not sound pleasing to one's sensibilities. And then, what is pleasing to one's sensibilities may not prove so to another's. And so on.

    As a long-time enthusiast of the symphony as a form (and the forms vary greatly!), I can suggest to a new listener that the old tried-and-true familiar names (Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Tchaikovsky …) are certainly worth exploring. Of course, is every one of even those composers' symphonies "the best"? How many Forum posts exist on this very site that speculate upon "the best Beethoven symphony" or the "best Brahms symphony" … ad infinitum.

    I do advocate listening to classical music and to symphonies, and I advocate listening to as many and as much as one can do so, especially if one enjoys such a pursuit. I certainly do, and I've heard at least a thousand symphonies, many of them interesting and satisfying works. I try to judge the quality of a piece outside of its actual performance (which may be flawed), but that is not always easy to do. Again, analyzing the score is somewhat different than actually listening to the work unfold in a real sound scape. But a lot of factors affect one's appreciation at any given moment, including one's mood at the time. Is one always in the mood for the great 6th symphony by Tchaikovsky? Or will that work sound better some days than others? Much to consider.

    And because there is so much to consider, and because I consider the prospect of picking "best symphonies" (which is something aside from even "best symphony composers") an absurdity, I will have nothing to say on this matter. Sorry.

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    Senior Member Allerius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clouds Weep Snowflakes View Post
    There's a great variaty here, so which do you like?

    I love Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky the most, Beethoven is just basic, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky just feel the Romantic area vibe in the very positive way for me.

    Oh, and check these out (I have the CD):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=newJOqUYPBc
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0vzs80tAxk
    What makes you think of Beethoven as "basic?" Beethoven's symphonies were highly innovative and complex for the time when they were composed, and are amongst the most influential in the repertoire. He's one of the most famous symphonists, not unlike composers such as Mahler, Bruckner, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich.
    Last edited by Allerius; Jul-18-2019 at 03:02.
    “To do good whenever one can, to love liberty above all else, never to deny the truth, even though it be before the throne.” - Ludwig van Beethoven.

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    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    And because there is so much to consider, and because I consider the prospect of picking "best symphonies" (which is something aside from even "best symphony composers") an absurdity, I will have nothing to say on this matter. Sorry.
    None of this is absurd if you focus on the thread question, which you did not do.

    Anyways, my favorite composers of symphonies are Mahler, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn and Prokofiev.

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    If profundity of change to the course of music history is the measure, it has to be Beethoven and Mahler.

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    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I might have thought of Norgard as of interest in a thread on "the best symphonies" but the others have not been very consistent.
    I think Aulis Sallinen has been pretty consistent as a symphonist as well, but of course it's a matter of taste indeed....

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    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allerius View Post
    What makes you think of Beethoven as "basic?" Beethoven's symphonies were highly innovative and complex for the time when they were composed, and are amongst the most influential in the repertoire. He's one of the most famous symphonists, not unlike composers such as Mahler, Bruckner, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich.
    I think our OP meant something like "fundamental" for "basic"; that's how I interpreted it.....

    Back in the day, Pelican published a history of the symphony in two volumes from Haydn to the modern, under the editorship of Robert Simpson. Worth getting hold of if possible, although not too hot on Today's composers, especially considering they are generally not too complimentary about the thirteen symphonies Shostakovich had written by that stage!
    Last edited by CnC Bartok; Jul-18-2019 at 09:23.

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