A Look at the Best Symphonies Of All Time

What are the best symphonies of all time and what makes them so special? Here we are taking a look at some of the most impressive and emotional symphonies ever composed by the leading conductors and musicians of all time. From Beethoven to Dvorak, we’re going to be guiding you along the way to find the most epic symphonies that you should listen to today.

Symphony No. 9 (‘From The New World’) – Dvorak

So as you work your way through this list you may find that quite a few 9th symphonies pop up but not to worry. We feel that Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 is important in our list for its energetic, poignant and glorious take on classical music. This is a symphony that takes its roots not only from US music but also from the composer’s native country, Bohemia. The melody is wonderful and it’s a great symphony to start off with if you’ve never listened to any of Dvorak’s work before.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 41 – Mozart

This was Mozart’s last ever symphony and in our opinion, it was also the best Mozart symphony the composer ever penned. It was also called Jupiter which comes as no surprise as the music itself is a beast. Mozart threw everything into this piece, making it his longest one yet. Many musicians remain stunned at the five-theme fugal ending which takes some real musical chops to play.

Listen to it below.

Symphonie Fantastique – Berlioz

Symphonie Fantastique has often been criticized for not actually being a real symphony at all. This is down to the five-movement structure that steers it away from being a classical symphony. However, with a name like Symphonie Fantastique how can it not be a symphony? What really matters in this piece is that Berlioz actually took a whole load of opiates and then wrote one of the greatest symphonies, if not the craziest, of all time. It was a truly weird piece of music that came out of the romantic period and it was such a hit because of how much it stood out artistically from other symphonies at the time.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 2 (‘Resurrection’) – Mahler

Mahler certainly didn’t want to take the easy route with his second symphony. This piece is truly ambitious, depicting the entire life cycle of a human that strangely starts out with a funeral. At the end of the music, you will hear the supernatural and triumphant return back to life. It nods towards Jewish folk music and also ends with church bells as well as having at least ten French horns blaring too. He definitely didn’t make it easy for himself but Mahler delivered with this piece.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 4 – Brahms

Brahms Symphony No. 4 came quite a bit after his first one. His first symphony meant he was touted to be Beethoven’s successor and took on top-dog status in classical music land. After all of this fame, he decided to create a set of some of the most consistent symphonies ever known. The fourth symphony composed in this set was the last and was thought up at the top of the mountain. It soon proved to be the best Brahms symphony yet. Released in 1884 the symphony silenced his critics, most of whom thought that his music was a little too conservative for the times. Symphony No. 4 was both emotionally charged and daring, helping to seal Brahms’ reputation as of the greatest symphony composers of all time.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 3 (‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’) – Gorecki

Gorecki was a recording phenomenon that rose to fame in the 1990s. His Symphony No. 3 is an incredibly popular piece of symphony music that is also set to be a classic in the future too. The overall concept of Symphony No. 3 is watertight and innovative. A soprano singer takes on lyrics that have been inspired by parents of children who have gone missing, all accompanied by a simple and sparse classical music backing. Even though this first movement is stunning, it’s the second one that will really have you gripped. Here the text for the lyrics has been taken from a messaged that was etched into a wall in a Gestapo cell during World War II. It goes perfectly with Gorecki’s accompaniment which is the bare-bones of symphonic music.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 5 – Shostakovich

In total Shostakovich composed 15 symphonies and he is one of the best and leading conductors because every single piece had some sort of cultural impact – something that is very rare in the world of symphonies. Out of all 15 of his works the fifth stands out and is considered to be one of his greatest symphonies. It is the most unusual mix of sarcasm and inflammatory music that still manages to toe the line in terms of symphonies. The final movement is a parody of Stalin’s excess and also an example of it, which is somewhat impossible to even depict. This was one of the greatest symphonies that made Shostakovich a name for himself in the classical music world.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 9 (‘Choral’) – Beethoven

The list wouldn’t be complete without a Beethoven symphony and of course, this one had to make it onto the list. The ingredients that have gone into this symphony are absolute killers featuring a noble theme, a manic composer, red wine, a depression that comes with going deaf and massive choral pieces. The closing melody is one of the greatest as the Beethoven symphony ends with a childish feel that closes the piece of nicely.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 6 (‘Pathetique’) – Tchaikovsky

Pathetique from Tchaikovsky is probably one of the most beautiful and saddest symphonies that have ever been written. Even though it was never intended to be so melancholy, the piece was said to reflect the frowned-upon and confusing feelings that Tchaikovsky had towards his nephew. No one said that leading conductors don’t have issues. It is undoubtedly very emotionally-charged that has ever come out of the composer and it definitely conjures up the feelings of yearning, regret and nostalgia. The piece features four movements that must have been an incredible yet rewarding undertaking for the artist. After the very first performances of this symphony, nine days later Tchaikovsky passed away.

Listen to it below.

Symphony No. 2 – Rachmaninov

Rachmaninov was truly indulgent with his second symphony. Over the years this hour-long giant of a symphony has become a convert favorite amongst many different orchestras. This is all the more strange because the composer actually wasn’t that keen on the piece so it’s remarkable that it has survived for so many years and become so popular. Rachmaninov had received terrible reviews for his first symphony from many different and esteemed critics and he became nervous about how this second one would be received by the public. He didn’t need to worry about it though as it quickly became a hit and even won some awards. The slow movements throughout the piece command the melody and the orchestration shown by the composer is outstanding.

Listen to it below.

 

FAQs

What is the greatest symphony of all time?

There have been many great symphonies that span hundreds of years so it’s difficult to put your finger on the greatest one ever. However, Beethoven’s Eroica was actually voted to be the best symphony of all time by BBC music magazine which is a very prestigious award. The piece was actually dedicated to Napolean and has been named as not only the greatest Beethoven symphony but the best one out of every single piece ever composed.

What is the most beautiful symphony ever written?

The most beautiful and haunting symphony that was ever written is definitely Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, also known as ‘Pathetique’. Few can rival the intense themes and feelings woven into this piece and once it’s done you’ll find it hard to forget.

What is the best piece of classical music ever written?

Bach was probably the best composer of classical music and his Toccata and Fugue in D minor was his best piece out of his extensive repertoire. As soon as you listen to it we guarantee you will recognize the infamous opening and the piece is still popular in today’s culture too.

We hope you enjoyed our list of the greatest symphonies of all time. Many of these pieces are still popular today so make sure to check out the links provided to see if you enjoy any of the compositions featured in this list.

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