Greatest Symphonies of All Time

plmilligan1968

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

That Finale! Joy at its purest!

Best.

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

2 Beethoven's 5th (Fate) Symphony

The four note motif that starts it is it. It is the most famous piece of music ever written,

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.

3 Shostakovich's 5th Symphony

No other comes close

By far the most underrated symphony. Very few people are aware of this masterpiece of epic proportions.

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.

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

4 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.

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

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.

5 Dvorak's 9th (New World) Symphony

Simply The best

When I see too Beethoven symphonies topping this list, I feel the same what metalheads feel when the top 3 of a metal-related list is Metallica. - Alkadikce

One of the most popular symphonies, for sure. Its melodic inventivness is beyond question. It didn'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.

Just great!

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.

Not even my favorite symphony from Mahler, but his symphonies are simply the best!

7 Beethoven's 3rd (Eroica) Symphony

The Eroica is second only to the immortal 9th.
Its ground-breaking composition at the time it was written took a while to be fully appreciated due to its demands of both performers and listeners and needs repeated listening to reveal its grandeur

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.

8 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.

9 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.

Listening to Mozart is like watching clouds in the sky, feeling rain drops falling on your face. So natural and beautiful.

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.

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.

The Contenders

11 Mahler's 8th Symphony

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.

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.

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.

12 Beethoven's 7th Symphony

Of course the second movement... But the others have so much to offer. The first movement feels like an expectation for great joy. Then comes the second movement with its deep, beautiful, sadness. Three and four bring (too much? ) consolation. The best.

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

13 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.

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

14 Berlioz Symphony Fantastique

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

Such a flourish of dramatical so early in the 19th century.

15 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

16 Brahms Symphony No. 4

! This is on every audition, but it isn't a piece of garbage. It is beautiful and serene, a personal favorite.

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.

17 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.

18 Prokofiev's 5th Symphony

A wonder of versatility and harmonic playfulness!

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.

19 Schubert's 8th Unfinished Symphony

Deserves to be number 1

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.

20 Brahms's 1st Symphony

It took me a long time to warm up to this symphony (and indeed to Brahms in general), but once I did, it was true love. The first movement, in particular, blows me away. The inner movements don't do as much for me, so it's not clear that this would make my top-10, but it would be close. It *certainly* deserves to be *way* higher than 50!

It was regarded as Beethoven's 10th. The opening is thundering. The last movement is triumphant. The symphony should be rated the first 10.

First and fourth movement are just epic! Plenty of ingenious musical ideas!

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

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 Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony

This symphony encompasses pure emotion.

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.

23 Mozart - Symphony No. 38 (Prague Symphony)

The last four symphonies of Mozart are equaled in depth only by the last four symphonies of Bruckner.

24 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.

25 Beethoven's 6th (Pastoral) Symphony

The harmony of nature to enliven the soul of man!
Should be rated much higher

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.

How does something so perfectly beautiful just appear in a man's head without even making any noise?

26 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.

The third movement is for me the greatest in classical music

27 Schubert's 9th Symphony

This is a fantastic contrapuctual texture vowen of heavenly melodies. I will never be able to understand how he could put so many ideas into one time and place and at the same time make it so well balanced and seemingly easy to understand.

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.

28 Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 - Ludwig Van Beethoven
29 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

30 Borodin's 2nd Symphony

A big Russian boisterous sounding symphony. - plmilligan1968

31 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.

The final bars of the last movement achieve the impossible of leaving you feeling saddened, bereft and yet totally uplifted.

32 Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony

Number 35? A true pick behind Beethoven # 9.

The greatest symphony of all times!

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

Most beautiful piece ever! Finale is amazing!

33 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!

34 Beethoven's 8th (Little One) Symphony

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

35 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 :(

36 Bruckner's 7th Symphony

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

This symphony is one of the greatest.

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

37 Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony

This should be higher...

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

38 Mozart's 25th Symphony

I find that any time you can catch Mozart in the minor mode, it's a treat. This little symphony is a delight, especially the first movement. Wouldn't make my top-10, but would certainly get an honorable mention.

This is the best symphony ever. I love the first movement. - guest1

First movement Allegro con brio is my favorite

Best of all- Allegro con brio

39 Shostakovich's 7th Symphony ("Leningrad")

A masterpiece - lot of Spanish influence after soviet unsuccessful intervention in the civilian war. I believe most was composed before the nazi invasion.

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!

The best symphony of Shostakovich

40 Dvorak's 8th Symphony

Truly wonderful symphony, quite underrated.

Magnificent melodies and every bit as enjoyable as his 9th!

Nice melody played with emotion

Good melodies to shave to.

41 Bruckner's 9th Symphony

An extraordinary piece of music. Majestic, powerful, mysterious, beautiful, terrifying and timeless are all words that describe the symphony. Bruckner died before completing the final movement. However, Simon Rattle conducts a very good recording of the 9th, including an excellent interpretation of the unfinished final movement. A very religious man, Bruckner dedicated the 9th symphony to God.

A tragic and solemn masterpiece, from a personal point of view Bruckner approached his death, doubts and moments of yearning for eternal redemption by God.

The last and unfinished symphony of Anton Bruckner is in some way the most accomplished symphony of all time.

42 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

In my opinion, this work should be much higher on the list! The adagio (sixth movement) is one of Mahler's greatest creations. It reaches down and touches the very soul of the listener.
The entire work encompasses the very essence of life and the world around us.
I was at a performance of this work a numbers of years ago with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. The last movement blew me away, even though I knew the work quite well from recordings.
The problem, if we can call it one, is length and the forces involved, which may scare the casual listener.
Give this a try, and see if you agree with me.
Bernard I. Negrin (7/2016)

43 Franck's Symphony in D Minor

Pity he only wrote one symphony...

44 Sibelius' 7th Symphony

Unfortunately the last of Sibelius' ingenious, sophisticated, mysterious, fabulous, thoughtful and fantastic symphonies.

45 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.

46 Enescu's 1st Symphony
47 Dvorák's 7th Symphony

Something is seriously wrong when this symphony is all the way down here at 55. It's one of my favorite symphonies. Very strong throughout, it's very nearly as good as the famous 9th. This should be in, or at least near, the top 10.

Sombre, sinister, dramatic, energetic... Wonderful. IT ROCKS!

The best symphony I have ever heard.

I, personally, consider this Dvorak's BEST symphony! Undoubtedly his 9th is more famous and also fantastic, but I just think this 7th is more, sincere, less refined and very powerful!

48 Tchaikovsky's 1st Symphony
49 Haydn's Symphony 45, Farewell

Wonderful modern for its time symphony

50 Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 "Classical."
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