Greatest Symphonies of All Time


The Top Ten

1 Beethoven's 9th (Choral) Symphony

Composed to perfection, Beethoven composed this symphony at the point of time when he was completely deaf. Not only does it contain a great depth in terms of energy and emotion as compared to other classical works at that time, it is a virtuosic piece requiring great skill to perform, since Beethoven managed to apply his revolutionizing of Baroque style and texture into this symphony. For example, the second movement, a complete sonata in the form of the trio, has a theme which is imitative throughout, and is to be played at a rather quick pace. Furthermore, this movement, as well as all the other movements are composed in such a way that they all appear to be linked strategically for the significance and representation of a whole. Nevertheless, this choral symphony allows him to express his depressed self particularly at the movements at the front, while at the forth, he teaches people about values such as brotherhood. Needless to say, this is a well-composed piece which is for all ...more

The first movement has a sublimity that hasn't - and cannot ever- be matched. From the simple main theme develops a highly cinematic and powerful feel that slowly descends into the deepest pits of despair, then comes back more mighty than ever.
The second movement is the liveliest of scherzos. It will astound you beyond comprehension.
The third is quite serene and gives you the image of a town in peace.
And now the massive finale. There's so much fire in this, more fire than the finale of Dvorak's 9th (Allegro con fuoco - "fast, with fire". ) It moves from fury to peace to fury to depression many times, but it's never too repetitive. The short reprise of each of the other movements creates such nostalgia in you all, and when the "Ode to Joy" rises into action, your heart will beat along with it. The coda is quite majestic, with a powerful ending that possesses your heartstrings.
As you can see, the first movement is by far my favorite. This symphony is, in my opinion, one ...more

Pure genius! Unconventional, and with an ebb and flow that challenges anyone who plays or listens to this superb piece. Could only be written by Beethoven, and is the closest thing to perfection that can be achived with a choral work.

Pure music to the humble ear which was not designed to hear something so sublime.

V 34 Comments
2 Beethoven's 5th (Fate) Symphony

Defines this musical god! I love Beethoven; his having lived makes everyone else's life that much richer!

Its not the most well known symphony by chance. This is the greatest and most influential symphonic work ever written. - plmilligan1968

For the longest time Beethoven's music seemed too "dark" and "heavy", I could hear how he seemed to struggle writing it.

But I have come to think of this, his 5th symphony as one of the greatest pieces of music, of all time. I now have about a half dozen versions of his symphonic works. Love the differences in the various conductors' interpretations.

The transition from 3rd to 4th movement is astonishing. Stravinsky said he could only look at the score with amazement and wonder how anyone could have written something so sublime.

V 20 Comments
3 Dvorak's 9th (New World) Symphony

One of the most popular symphonies, for sure. Its melodic inventivness is beyond question. It didn´┐Ż't become a firm favourite with audiences all over the world just for having been composed in the New World, although it certainly exhibits some of the melodic flavour of that place. It is however one of the first truly international symphonies, and that may well have contributed to its lasting popularity. A big favourite of mine forever.

The first movement from this symphony was the first piece I ever played with a full orchestra and I have to say it was something I will never forget. It is so magical and has a mood that is unparalleled. Not only is the first movement great, but all of the subsequent movements are great too. The fourth movement has to be one of, if not my favorite, movements of all time. I especially like to watch the recording when it is played for the Pope and conducted by Dudamel.

An incredible balance between strong powerful melodies and dainty, delicate underlying tones, this piece truly speaks as the best of a lifetime.

A superb work full of power and soaring melodies.

V 14 Comments
4 Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 - Dmitri Shostakovich

The depths of human emotion, be it rapture and love or torment and pain are explored past the breaking point of a man in 45 minutes of unparalleled intensity. If allowed the third movement will deliver sneering torture, and pure hollow grief accompanied by fragile flickers of hope, whilst the 4th has an intricate blend majesty, power and defiance. Whilst not as glossy as the likes of Beethoven or Dvorak this piece contains some of the most intense daggers of emotion transcendent of words that, and hence gets my vote for the greatest musical masterpiece of all time.

A journey through Soviet oppression of the 1930s, premiered during the Great Purge, this symphony is a work of terror, parody, and redemption - if you believe it to be.

A very worthy work if a symphony is just movie music.

All of it is brilliant, but the 3rd movement is, in my opinion, a level of genius unparalleled before or since in music.

V 1 Comment
5 Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 - Jean Sibelius

If cold wind, thunder and rocks should have voices of their own, they would utter nothing but sing this symphony.

I tend to like a grand and monumental finale in a symphony, but the Sibelius #2 conclusion touches me in a way like no other.

Perfection. The final five minutes is everything music is supposed to be.

Awesome Symphony with a choral 4th movement that will blow your socks off.

V 1 Comment
6 Symphony No. 1 in D Major - Gustav Mahler

Pure genius throughout
Mahler is the most underrated composer of all time
Finale is brilliant

Mahler is my favorite composer. This is one of his best symphonies, but my favorite is his 2nd and 5th. Great symphony!

This symphony contains within itself so many contrasting ideas, emotions, thoughts- it is genius.

One of the best first symphonies ever written!

V 5 Comments
7 Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony

By far the most passionate and heart-wrenching symphony I've ever heard. Tchaikovsky explores intense emotions in this one such as the soft love of a dying mother, sudden unfathomable loss and grief, contentment, galloping giddy hope, and the tragic inevitability of old age and ultimately death. One of the most vivid interpretations of the human condition ever written.

Listening to this symphony is a soul shattering experience. The symphony starts with a whispering bassoon solo almost like a person's last words on the death bed. The symphony the proceeds into the second theme which slowly dies away into pianississississimo (pp.) The symphony then takes an unexpected turn and within minutes, the trombones reach a dynamic of fortissississimo (f) which resembles a desperate soul crying its heart out while trapped in a storm of emotions. The second movement is more cheerful, it resembles a charismatic young person in their most joyful years. The third movement is energetic and motivating, most first time listeners would assume this movement to be the finale of the symphony. However, they would find themselves wrong: a fourth movement kicks in with depression, all the willpower seem to vanish. After minutes of sorrow and grief, the symphony decrescendos, all voices die away, and the cello lets go of the very last breath of this work.

Best musical piece ever written. In one second, it has more emotion than the entire pop music.

One of my favorites.

V 11 Comments
8 Brahms Symphony No. 4

The best way to view this Symphony is in terms of sheer craftsmanship. The complex and dense interplay of motives, in particular rising and falling thirds, is so seamless and downright clever, at times it's hard to believe that this is the work of a mere human being!

Dramatic and beautiful! The 4th movement is full of grace and dramatic feeling... The finale is the strongest moment in the romantic era!

Perhaps the most complex and dramatic yet moving and exciting piece of arts. Not as famous as Beethoven's 9th or 5th but it's a real Grand Finale of the whole Romantic Era.

Definitely not according to my taste

V 5 Comments
9 Beethoven's 3rd (Eroica) Symphony

Appeared, seemingly, out of nowhere. Nothing that preceded it hinted at this most revolutionary work. It's been my all-time favourite for over half a century.

More complex in structure than the 5th and certainly the most ground-breaking symphonic work for its time

This symphony has everything: drama, struggle, peace and sublime beauty all intervoven into an epic "tour de force". While listening to this peace you go through the whole spectrum of human emotions and at the end you feel satisfied. Amazing that a human being can create such a perfect piece of music.

The Eroica is the greatest symphony of all time, simply because it caused the greatest change in classical music. It broke away from rigid, predictable form of previous symphonies, in that its huge variation of rhythm, tempo, volume and duration brought extremes of emotion to the listener.
This was no doubt partly caused by Beethoven's agony of ensuing deafness, and his initial admiration for the revolutionary Napoleon. The funereal second movement is the most played in respect of the death of great people, and the whole symphony is the most analysed by the media.
A recent poll of 152 conductors identified it as the greatest symphony of all time.
It is.
Peter Cross 2017

V 12 Comments
10 Mahler's 2nd Symphony

Every list of "greatest" anything always comes down to a matter of personal choice or popularity. There really is no such thing as the"greatest" symphony ever written because all music is subjective and what is music to one ear is noise to another! In addition, when discussing top ten lists or lists of the greatest symphonies, invariably the Beethoven 9th always comes out on top. I suspect this has a lot to do with popularity and the fact that lots of people who "vote" on these kinds of things are somewhat limited in their musical exposure. Therefore I will add my personal opinion insofar as the Mahler second symphony. Myself and a number of professional musicians, conductors, music historians and critics share the opinion that this is the greatest symphonic work ever produced- surpassing evn Beethoven's mighty Ninth. The Mahler 2nd has more dramatic tension, emotional power and philosophical weight than anything written before or after. It is truly the culmination of the romantic ...more

This symphony is very special for me. It made me addicted to Mahler 's music. It begins with a funeral song. In second movement, It's like walking in purgatory. The melody of the second movement is so peaceful. In the third movement, It's like remembering memories in the previous life. The resurrection part begins in fourth and fifth movements until it reaches its climax in the end. Such a brilliant work. I think it is the divinest music human had done even though there was many religious composers like Handel, Bach, etc. Many words can describe this symphony : Euphoric, jubilant, but Mahler was truly a genius composer. I am sure if Beethoven still lived at Mahler's era, he would be proud.

Mahler's 2nd Symphony (Auferstehung, I.E. resurrection) should be in the top 5. Aside from the raw emotional power of the various themes he interweaves (and that glorious finale in particular), you have the use of full choir, soprano/alto soloists, organ, the "sound of the distance" with the brass playing offstage, etc. Somehow Mahler wrangled this sheer breadth of instrumentation into a compelling, universal narrative about the journey through death, into the memory of the life one had, through purgatory, and finally into triumphant rebirth. That he composed this so early in his career is remarkable. The youtube version with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Jansons is the superlative version available online.

This symphony establishes the idea of life after death. There are so many moments in this symphony where one imagine being in a paradise. Even with all that aside, this symphony has the finale to put all finales to shame. What is more divine than a full choir with, not 2, not 4, not 8, but 10 horns blasting with their bells up?

V 17 Comments

The Contenders

11 Berloz Symphony Fantastique

Now this is a dramatic, original, individual and inspired piece of symphonic work. - plmilligan1968

V 1 Comment
12 Mozarts 40th (Great) Symphony

This is one of the most eloquent and exquisite symphonic works ever written. - plmilligan1968

Passionate and perfectly structured and balanced. Mozart was by this time rightfully self-assured and probably deeply aware of his mastery of the form and language. I never tire of hearing any part of this symphony.

Although I love several Mozart's works, this is the first one I ever fell in love with and kept on remembering.

Really nice!

V 7 Comments
13 Symphony No. 8 in E-flat Major - Gustav Mahler

This fully choral symphony with the odd 2 movement structure is a refreshingly bright and beautiful piece throughout. The double choir and children's choir make this grand and epic, with a 'divine' beauty. Nothing else compares. A 'feel good' symphony that doesn't lack any depth, complexity, or scope. It's prefect.

I think this is the summation of all Mahler sought to express. The Chorus Mysticus is sublime and I can imagine no more perfect a way to leave this world than listening to this.

Music from heaven.


14 Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony

Tchaikovsky is one of the greatest melodists of all time. In fact, I believe he is the greatest melodist. Yet, many believes his music to be superficial. The fourth symphony takes on an exhilarating journey of his life in the middle age and produces intense emotions that challenge the audience at every level. His sixth symphony may be the greatest of his work; however, his emotions in this symphony is more exciting compare to the emotions in the sixth symphony.

A multitude of emotional progression masterfully done by one of Russia's greatest musical minds. With the first movement being a maelstrom of emotional prowess the second movements comes as a breath of calming fresh air the brings the piece back to emotional clarity.

Inspired by Beethoven's 5th, a Russian slant on the hand of fate. - plmilligan1968

The finale is one the most energetic, fiery movements of a symphony I've ever heard. The strength and power it has is unmatchable. I love listening to it.

V 4 Comments
15 Shostakovich's 5th Symphony

Can't even practice a single movement on either violin or viola without being moved to tears. Gets me every single time.

I have yet to find any music more emotionally charged than the third movement of this piece.

Whenever the Symphony reaches its climax I'm covered head to toe in goosebumps.

The last movement is so powerful, great piece,

V 1 Comment
16 Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36 - Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovksy

This entry is splitting the Tchaikovsky's 4th vote!

17 Beethoven's 7th Symphony

2nd Movement is the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. This should be 1st on the list. Hands down.

The allegretto (2nd movement) wins my vote for best movement of any composer's symphony of all time.

Only down here because its not popular, consider listening to the 2nd movement if you're a noob and don't know why its good

2nd movement is one of a kind.

V 11 Comments
18 Bruckner's 8th Symphony

Bruckner is for those who listen to music. Instant gratification ain't what you will get with him. Bruckner is like travelling on a space ship through gravity waves, or something like that now that LIGO got the Nobel in physics. When you listen to his fourth movement if you already forgot what was in 1 and 2, then you are not going to get it, you are not going to understand what Bruckner is all about. It takes work from you but the rewards are unlike those you will get from anyone else.

Lot of people are turned off by Bruckner's long, meandering symphonies, but if you give this one a chance (and all the other ones) it might surprise you.

The high water mark of classical music.

This has to be the most amazing symphony ever composed. It's a colosal, it's dense, it's profound in every possible way...

V 4 Comments
19 Symphony No. 11 in G Minor, Op. 103 - Dmitri Shostakovich

Stupendous symphony ranging in dynamics to dulcet harps to solo double basses sounding like machine guns to the full force of all the orchestra playing maximally. An incredibly inspired symphony particularly good as a visual spectacle when seen live with superb colour added by use of the whole range of wind instruments & massive percussion section. AGB

20 Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony

The first time I heard this Symphony was without a doubt a life changing experience. I don't know what happened but I was just in ecstasy for the whole time and was almost in shock at the emotions I was feeling. It brings me to tears every single time.

Every I listen to this symphony it make sad and still emotion of my home like that beautiful memories that has passed and remember now in my later years especially the 2nd melody in the movement 1.

The most beautiful melodies and the most wonderful harmony. It is so cleverly crafted with each note counting and making perfect sense.

Simply the best piece of music -- EVER!

V 10 Comments
21 Mahler's 5th Symphony

Leonard Bernstein's interpretation of this piece is absolutely phenomenal, truly Mahler's greatest work.

Mahler 5 is probably one of the greatest compositions of music ever. The emotion and truth and beauty embedded within the pieces is breathtaking. Mahler really knew how to put love and his life into his product. symphonies 1,2, and 5 are some of the best forms of art ever to be heard. Mahler knew how to reveal the tragedies and beauties in life so elegantly through his music.

The adagio is the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard.

A massive dynamic emotional powerhouse!

22 Mahler's 9th Symphony

It is curious that this symphony should not even make it into the top ten, as it is one of the most introspective, emotional, and passionate symphonies of all creation, beginning with the heartbeat of Mahler, continuing a sense of warmth throughout the Landler, a ruckus of violent chaos in the Rondo, and the famous release of the Adagio. That this symphony be so far neglected is criminal; surely it is the fault of being incomprehensible to the uninitiated that bars it from the popular appeal of a top ten list.

To criticize the work, especially, for being overlong is deliriously foolish; a single melodic line of thought is present throughout every movement, with every note contributing so fascinatingly and constructed so purely with objective view of emotion and sweetness in death. Perhaps only in the first movement there are moments of boredom, but even these moments are justified and necessary in the context of the whole; after every war comes a period of great prosperity and ...more

My personal favorite work of art. The finale is the most moving single movement in the repertoire. - mahlerialiszt

It's a sin not to include this piece in the top two. The opening notes of the last movement is beyond any human creation that have ever existed.

Best music ever

V 4 Comments
23 Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, Op. 100 - Sergei Prokofiev

This incredible piece of music has a depth, drama and beauty that surpasses the greatest Shostakovich symphonies, and makes a mockery of all who calls Prokofiev a cynical an non-personal composer. The last minutes of the Adagio is one of the most heart-breakingly beautiful places in all orchestral music.

24 Sibelius' 2nd Symphony

This symphony absolutely belongs to the very best and most wonderful symphonies of all time! Listen to the fantastic finale. It is one of the greatest highlights in history of music. Coda and reprise are unmatched and on the same level as the most tremendous finales of Anton Bruckner.

Absolute intensity throughout. Slightly folksy, but still majestic on a grand scale. Transitions effortlessly from the brooding to the triumphant.

The opening trumpet fanfare in the finale provides such a feeling of triumph and elegance, making the ending to a concert beyond spectacular.

Shapeless and weak despite its often strikingly original thematic material. The last movement is torture. Completely surpassed by the composer's Fifth. Life is too short.

V 3 Comments
25 Scriabin Symphony 1
26 Tchaikovsky Symphony 1
27 Sibelius' 5th Symphony

One of the really great symphonies.

Big and beautiful!

Big and strong like another 5th symphony we know,take a listen to the Sibelius 4th.

28 Beethoven's 6th (Pastoral) Symphony

Number 1 for me - intensely moving

Simply the greatest piece of art ever created by a Han being. I would like to die listening to the fifth movement.

The builds and blends in and out of woodwind solos really do it for me.

I love nature, I love this symphony. Coincidence? I don't think so.

V 9 Comments
29 Symphony No. 2 in C Minor - Gustav Mahler
30 Mahler's 3rd Symphony

I was extremely fortunate to be present at Bernard Haitink's recent Proms performance at the Albert Hall. To see this work live was to behold a wondrous miracle. The diversity & inspiration of the composition show what an inspired composer Mahler was. The first movement is a multidimentional symphony in itself. The addition of a boys choir in the 5th movement lightens the intensity of the other movements. A must see at least once in your lifetime.

I played the finale of this symphony in the 8th grade, so I have a special place in my heart for it. - higgsboson2142

V 1 Comment
31 Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony

Stunning masterpiece particularly the French horn movement and the finale, amazing vitality, before his death symphony no. 6

V 2 Comments
32 Schubert's 8th Unfinished Symphony

One of the greatest symphonies of all time. As I get older I found out the greatness in this work, not when I was younger. Cannot believe Schubert in his mid twenties, can compose such a work - the 2nd movement, in a different world!

Surprised to see this down here. This is one of the greatest Symphonic masterpieces ever written.

Comes from another dimension. How Schubert thought it up defies my comprehension.

Special... Even with only two movements, but it sounds perfect and beautiful

33 Schubert's 9th Symphony

This symphony is really great and wonderful. It is probably the most Important milestone, that was directly leading to the fantastic symphonies of Anton Bruckner.

Ah, Schubert, the master of the melodic symphony. What a brilliant piece of music. Should be higher up on the list.

This has got to be the most underrated symphony on the entire list.

Have always loved its wide romantic verve

34 Borodin's 2nd Symphony

A big Russian boisterous sounding symphony. - plmilligan1968

35 Bruckner's 4th (The Romantic) Symphony

This symphony is actually easy to listen to, and has some great music.

Beautiful opening; uncharacteristic Schubertian slow movement, famous hotn call in the scherzo and a stunning final movement coda that only conductor Celibidache interpreted as a vision of entering into Heaven. Truly Spiritual.

36 Saint Saens 3rd (Organ) Symphony

A real wonder. I love Schubert, Beethoven and others' symphonies, but Saint-Saens' work is the one I can listen to again and again with always the same admiration

This symphony is powerful and moving and works both at an intellectual level and an emotional level. Most satisfying.

A very under played and under rated symphonic work but its truly awesome. - plmilligan1968

I am never tired of listening to this extraordinary masterpiece

V 3 Comments
37 Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 - Ludwig Van Beethoven
38 Schumann Symphony 1
39 Beethoven's 8th (Little One) Symphony

Light hearted and cheerful themes run through this wonderful symphonic work. - plmilligan1968

40 Dvorak's 8th Symphony

Perfectly written
Totally can tell what perspective he was writng it from
Underrated symphony
Folklore based on Prague

V 4 Comments
41 Brahms Symphony No.1 in C Minor

The best Symphony ever written, even surpassing Beethoven's and Bruckner's masterpieces.

So underrated. Best fourth movement EVER.

42 Mozart's Symphony No.41

Ah, the "Jupiter," because it's fitting for the king of the gods. The culmination of Mozart's genius in instrumental music. A perfect blend of melody, counterpoint, harmony, rhythm, emotion, form, etc. This piece puts a smile on my face like very few can - ALL 4 movements. It may sound deceptively simple and shallow to the uninitiated, but trust me it doesn't reveal its secrets immediately. Anyone who dares to disagree upon repeated listening hasn't studied the score, seen it performed live, or just doesn't understand the trancendental. I'm appalled it's #39 (08/2015) on this list?! Get out of town! Where my Mozart fans at? Represent!

This symphony is exhilarating without being offensive to the ear. It combines all of Mozart's greatest qualities: clarity, elegance, grace, and lyrical melodies, in one epic piece. It never gives the listener a break, but continuously pushes forward with memorable themes and beautiful harmonies.

Should be in the top five. A beautiful work that was WAY ahead of its time.

Greatest symphony ever composed and never to be surpassed.

V 8 Comments
43 Shostakovich's 7th Symphony ("Leningrad")

This is one of my top 5 symphonies ever. The way Shostakovich tells us of the pain and sorrow the city of Leningrad suffered during the German invasion (and siege of 1941) - and throughout the Stalin totalitarian regime - is absolutely stunning. An immense piece of art!

I listen to this symphony everyday!

V 1 Comment
44 Bruckner's 7th Symphony

A very underrated symphony in my opinion bruckner at his best. Really takes you on an emotional journey

Powerful and melodic, somewhere between Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and so acessable.

V 1 Comment
45 Mahler's 4th Symphony

Pure genius
Simply perfect
Exhilarating, yet peaceful
Fourth movement is amazingly written
Easy to tell what Mahler's intention was when he wrote this magnificent symphony
Possibly the greatest Mahler symphony

What a panorama of beauty and yearning!

Amazing symphony! A MUST listen!

46 Brahms Symphony No. 3

I love this symphony above all the others. All the movements are special, but the third movement is especially beautiful and melancholic while the fourth is intensely passionate. This symphony is often underrated probably due to its lack of excitement. But it contains a gentleness that should be appreciated. The more you listen to it, the more wonderful it sounds.

This is my favorite symphonies of all time. There is one recording of it with Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic that always takes my breath away with the horn opening. The third movement may be my favorite movement of all time though with its tragic feeling of reaching out to something but not being able to grasp it. I find the 4th movement incredibly exciting each time too.

Probably my most favourite symphony of all times...I can certainly understand that Carlos Santana borrowed from Brahms :(

47 Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony

This should be higher...

It's perfect. Which is both its curse...and, mainly, its blessing.

48 Rachmaninov's 1st Symphony

Very different from Rachmaninov's other big symphonic works but is my favorite.

49 Beethoven's 4th Syphony

Not too long, yet as good as the others

50 Mahler's 8th Symphony

Mahler's masterpiece. He wrote it in six weeks, and not a single piece of music have made shiver the way the finale of the this piece has.

PSearch List

Recommended Lists

Related Lists

Best Songs On Carcass's Symphonies of Sickness Top 10 Mahler Symphonies Best Silly Symphonies Best Songs From Leaves' Eyes Symphonies of the Night Top 10 Best Songs on Lucifer's Heritage Symphonies of Doom

List Stats

2,000 votes
90 listings
9 years, 210 days old

Top Remixes (10)

1. Beethoven's 5th (Fate) Symphony
2. Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 - Dmitri Shostakovich
3. Symphony No. 1 in D Major - Gustav Mahler
1. Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 - Dmitri Shostakovich
2. Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43 - Jean Sibelius
3. Beethoven's 9th (Choral) Symphony
1. Brahms Symphony No.1 in C Minor
2. Brahms Symphony No. 4
3. Dvorak's 9th (New World) Symphony

View All 10

Error Reporting

See a factual error in these listings? Report it here.