Greatest Symphonies of All Time

The Top Ten
1 Beethoven's 5th (Fate) Symphony

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. I love the differences in the various conductors' interpretations.

The first time I saw a performance of this symphony I said to my wife as it ended, Now I know why they call it Beethoven's 5th. A silly statement for sure. To me, as a novice, this music never stops flowing. Note after note, it blends flawlessly and ends perfectly.

2 Beethoven's 9th (Choral) Symphony

Composed to perfection, Beethoven wrote this symphony when he was completely deaf. Not only does it contain great depth in terms of energy and emotion compared to other classical works of that time, but it is also a virtuosic piece requiring great skill to perform. Beethoven managed to revolutionize the Baroque style and texture in this symphony.

For example, the second movement, a complete sonata in the form of a trio, has a theme that is imitative throughout and is to be played at a rather quick pace. Furthermore, this movement, as well as all the others, is composed in such a way that they all appear to be linked strategically for the significance and representation of a whole.

This choral symphony allows Beethoven to express his depressed self, particularly in the earlier movements, while in the fourth, he teaches people about values such as brotherhood. Needless to say, this is a well-composed piece for everyone to listen to and dive into the world of the greatest pieces of music ever composed.

3 Dvorak's 9th (New World) Symphony

The first movement of 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.

One of the most popular symphonies, for sure. Its melodic inventiveness is beyond question. It didn't become a firm favorite with audiences all over the world just for having been composed in the New World, although it certainly exhibits some of the melodic flavor 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 favorite of mine forever.

4 Shostakovich's 5th Symphony

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, while the fourth has an intricate blend of majesty, power, and defiance.

While not as glossy as the likes of Beethoven or Dvorak, this piece contains some of the most intense daggers of emotion transcendent of words. Hence, it gets my vote for the greatest musical masterpiece of all time.

5 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 the history of music. The 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.

6 Beethoven's 3rd (Eroica) Symphony

The Eroica is the greatest symphony of all time, simply because it caused the greatest change in classical music. It broke away from the rigid, predictable form of previous symphonies. 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 impending deafness and his initial admiration for the revolutionary Napoleon. The funereal second movement is most often played in respect of the death of great people, and the whole symphony is the most analyzed by the media. A recent poll of 152 conductors identified it as the greatest symphony of all time. It is.

Peter Cross 2017

7 Symphony No. 1 in D Major - Gustav Mahler

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

This symphony contains within itself so many contrasting ideas, emotions, and thoughts. It is genius.

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

8 Mozarts 40th (Great) Symphony

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.

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

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

9 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 believe his music to be superficial. The fourth symphony takes on an exhilarating journey of his life in middle age and produces intense emotions that challenge the audience at every level.

His sixth symphony may be the greatest of his work. However, the emotions in this symphony are more exciting compared to the emotions in the sixth symphony.

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

10 Mahler's 2nd Symphony

This symphony is very special for me. It made me addicted to Mahler's music. It begins with a funeral song. In the second movement, it is like walking in purgatory. The melody of the second movement is so peaceful. In the third movement, it is like remembering memories from a previous life.

The resurrection part begins in the fourth and fifth movements until it reaches its climax at the end. Such a brilliant work. I think it is the divinest music humans have ever created, even though there were many religious composers like Handel and Bach. Many words can describe this symphony: euphoric, jubilant. Mahler was truly a genius composer. I am sure if Beethoven had lived in Mahler's era, he would be proud.

The Contenders
11 Mahler's 8th Symphony

This fully choral symphony with the odd two-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 perfect.

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.

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

12 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, and form. This piece puts a smile on my face like very few can - all four 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 transcendental. I'm appalled it's #39 (08/2015) on this list! Get out of town! Where are my Mozart fans? Represent!

13 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. Movements three and four bring (too much?) consolation.

The best.

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

I would argue Beethoven's greatest symphony. Complete masterpiece.

14 Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony

Regarding the most recent comment that this symphony evokes the pathos of "a dying mother... and the tragic inevitability of old age and untimely death," I can only say how this description demonstrates the ultimately subjective nature of our responses to music. For me, the very first time I heard the symphony, it sounded like the brooding, mournful, and ecstatic music of EROS. Romantic love strikes me as the overriding theme of this work and its ultimate extinguishment.

The last movement is literally like listening to love disintegrate into nothing. The fact that Tchaikovsky could find the musical language to describe such a unique horror is the greatest testament to his genius. Based on the evidence of his life, it appears that this utter destruction of the self is based on his unrealized homosexual lusts and loves. It is amazing that such terrible pain could create such an unprecedented musical achievement.

15 Beethoven's 6th (Pastoral) Symphony

And so!? Just thirty!?!? I cannot believe it! This is the best symphony in classical music. (Excuse me, I am Italian and I cannot write English very well.)

Simply the greatest piece of art ever created by a human 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?

16 Berlioz Symphony Fantastique

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

That had to be written down because it is just very complex. It is good.

17 Symphony No. 11 in G Minor, Op. 103 - Dmitri Shostakovich

Stupendous symphony ranging in dynamics from 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 color added by the use of the whole range of wind instruments and a massive percussion section.


18 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!

Perhaps the most complex and dramatic yet moving and exciting piece of art. Not as famous as Beethoven's 9th or 5th, but it's a real grand finale of the whole Romantic era.

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

19 Prokofiev's 5th Symphony

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

A wonder of versatility and harmonic playfulness!

20 Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 - Ludwig Van Beethoven
21 Schubert's 8th Unfinished Symphony

One of the greatest symphonies of all time. As I get older, I have found out the greatness in this work, not when I was younger. I cannot believe Schubert in his mid-twenties could compose such a work. The 2nd movement is 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.

22 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 in the first 10.

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

23 Mahler's 5th Symphony

Mahler's 5th is probably one of the greatest compositions of music ever. The emotion, truth, and beauty embedded within the pieces are 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.

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

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

24 Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony

To conceive such beauty and brilliance and put it to paper to be played is almost beyond comprehension! It hints at the unknown potential of the human mind. I cry every time I hear this most majestic of symphonies! It is both powerful and moving. The third movement is incomparable and unparalleled in my opinion.

Mr. Sergei Rachmaninoff must surely be writing symphonies for gods at this time!

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 the whole time and was almost in shock at the emotions I was feeling.

It brings me to tears every single time.

25 Beethoven's 8th (Little One) Symphony

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

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