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

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.

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


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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.

1st for sure

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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.

Dvorak's New World Symphony gets my vote for #1 because it is so good from start to finish. I love the 3rd Movement of Beethoven's 9th, but that symphony is not as good from start to finish as is Dvorak's 9th.

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

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.

One of the mightiest of pieces ever written with a great story behind it

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

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.

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

A solid choice is a symphony is something that has no shape or destiny.

6 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.

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

This Symphony is much better than his No.4 I don't understand those music lovers who judge otherwise.

One of my favorites.

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7 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!

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8 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!

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9 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

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10 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.

Also Donald Trump's favorite due to being so "high energy".

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The Contenders

11 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

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.

As a professional conductor myself, I would place Mahler's 2nd Symphony above all others. The raw emotion of the piece can not be described in words here. The sheer enormity of the piece is astounding. The finale raises one into the sky, soaring towards a greater purpose.

I would rate Mahler's 2nd as the greatest symphony and agree with all the sentiments in the first comment. It would be my number 1 Desert Island disc. I listened to it almost every day when working for finals in medicine. It certainly aided me in passing. I have seen several live performances, which leave one emotionally drained at the end of the climactic finale. To see this symphony live is to behold a miracle!

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12 Berloz Symphony Fantastique

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

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13 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.

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14 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.

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.

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16 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.

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17 Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36 - Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovksy

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

18 Bruckner's 8th Symphony

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.

The third movement is for me the greatest in classical music

The coda of the adagio is the most beautiful four minutes in music

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19 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.

It's top 3!

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20 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.

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List StatsUpdated 25 Feb 2017

2,000 votes
88 listings
8 years, 187 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

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