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. 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.

Not only is this peice the "mona lisa of music", But it's also:
- very oringinal for it's time
- a summation of classical form
- very emotionally uplifting
- a very influential work

I know the choral symphony is great and very expressive too, but it probably wouldn't exist without this marvelous work.

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.

2 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

Absolute masterpiece. Single best symphony ever written. First movement goes through a vast scope of emotions and melodies, all brilliantly put together. Second movement has incredible sense of motion and liveliness. Third movement is a very lyrical and playful. Fourth movement is overwhelmingly powerful and joyful, enforced with choir.
But not only that, Beethoven was composing it while being completely deaf. That's astonishing.

One of the most awe inspiring pieces of music. This is an entity that I can't stop thinking about, constructed from pure god like genius, no one will ever create something so elegant, powerful and intensely complex ever again. Not to mention also that this is the international anthem of the UN and Beethoven could not even physically here the symphony once it was premiered in Vienna.

3 Dvorak's 9th (New World) Symphony

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.

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.

This symphony deserves to be placed in the first place. The reason it is not is because the composer is not German, so he gets screwed up. There seems to be German mafia who insists that all greatest musical works of art are written by Germans. Again this German superiority. I do not doubt German composers talents, but when it comes to symphonies, Dvorak deserves the first place here.

Magnificent piece! One of my very first LPs as a child, loved it the first time I listened to it. Hearing it performed live is an emotional experience beyond measure. As you listen, take note of the number of instruments having solos. Beautiful interleaving of exquisite melodies leave a lasting impression.

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, 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.

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

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

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 history of music. Coda and reprise are unmatched and on the same level as the most tremendous finales of Anton Bruckner.

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.

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 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

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.

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.

Beautiful music throughout, it tells a story of power and majesty. But it's the crescendo in the finale that makes this piece one of the greatest of all time.

7 Symphony No. 1 in D Major - Gustav Mahler

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!

Great theme after great theme. Super colorful and engaging from beginning to end.

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 rain drops falling on your face. So natural and beautiful.

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

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

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 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.

YES! The 4th makes a list. The Tchaikovsky 4th may be the most underrated symphony of all orchestral works. Well known for so many other signature pieces, this work stands out in the Tchaikovsky repetoire. The feverish 4th movement stands out as one of the great finales.

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.

10 Mahler's 2nd Symphony

The resurrection symphony, the massive symphony. The chorus part is amazing, especially their last 3 chords. After that, bells and gongs go crazy.

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.

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.

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.

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 have made shiver the way the finale of the this piece has.

Music from heaven.

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, 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.

One of the most ingenious and fabulous symphonies in history. Analyse the finale! Sophistication to perfection.

Lie on your back beneath a starry night sky and just listen to this. Sensational.

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. 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.

My favorite symphony from start to finish. And one of his best works.

14 Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony

Especially the first and fourth movements, it is basically an experience. The first movement, in the development, is just raging out of control most of the time. Before the beautiful theme is played in B major, one of the most dramatic and thrilling descents happen, over an f#pedal point, emphasized by alarming statements by the low brass, until it climaxes with a stunning quadruple f. (FFFF) That's very loud! The last movement, especially after the tam-tam is just beautiful enough to make me cry. A somber brass chorale followed by the strings giving their emotional farewell, getting quieter as they progress, eventually dying away.

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 each of our own responses to the sound of music. For myself, 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. Amazing that such terrible pain could create such an unprecedented musical achievement.

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.

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.

15 Beethoven's 6th (Pastoral) Symphony

And so!? Just thirty!?!? I cannot believe in it! This is the best symphony of the store of the classi al music. (excuse me I am Italian and I cannot write English very well).

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?

I think the first movement is the best thing ever written in music. Perfection.

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 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

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 arts. 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!

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

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 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.

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 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

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 the first 10.

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

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

23 Mahler's 5th Symphony

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.

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.

A massive dynamic emotional powerhouse!

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 on 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 God's 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 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.

I can recognize some heroic composers doing their best to acheive more in sounds and sensations...not all of them can bring magic...Rachmaninov made it here more than any other...unfortunately the list of composers touching the magic key is short...some of the most famous are not even there...Rachmaninov made a place for him in it

25 Beethoven's 8th (Little One) Symphony

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

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