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Top 10 Symphonies You Should Own

From Aaron Green

Want to start a symphony collection, but don't know where to begin? Are you looking to expand upon what you already have? This list of symphonies will provide you with a variety of musical styles upon which to build or add to your symphony collection.

1) Mahler Symphony No. 9 in D Major
If you've never heard Mahler's Symphony No. 9, grab a blanket, sit by the fire, and melt into the lush orchestration Mahler so masterfully created. Mahler wrote this symphony knowing that the end of his life was near. Some believe the fourth movement represents the five psychological stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Mahler undoubtedly fits the romantic style to the "t"; heart-wrenching tension followed by ever-so-sweet resolve.

2) Haydn Symphony No. 34 in d minor

One of Haydn's lesser known works, this flawless piece from the classical period is perfectly balanced with emotion and art. The first movement melodies float above rivers of low tones. The upbeat rhythms of the second movement are sure to make you dance; it's any Haydn lover's "pop" music. The third movement menuetto brings images of courtly balls and high tea. The final movement expertly brings closure to the symphony and sends the audience home happy and content.

3) Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in c minor
Although a bit overplayed, something this good should not be excluded. Everyone knows the first movement when they hear it, as for the following movements, that's another story. The second movement is not as "heavy" as the first making it an excellent relief without losing its harmonic brilliance. The third movement includes similar rhythmic patterns as the first which creates a continuity. The triumphant orchestration in the forth movement concludes the symphony in absolute victory.

4) Mozart Symphony No. 25 in g minor

Also a lesser known work, this Mozart symphony combines classical form with Mozart's flamboyant expressions. The first movement, although expressive, maintains a lightness in the sound. The orchestration in the second movement gives its pastoral sound. The third movement opens with a unison melody which remains throughout its entirety. The finale gives you the feeling of being "rushed"...only in a good way. This symphony is a must have for those who love Mozart.

5) Barber Symphony No. 1 in G Major

Samuel Barber, a 20th century American composer, wrote this symphony in 1936. Its orchestration is similar to that of Mahler's. Barber takes the symphony where Mahler left off and carries into the 20th century. Its complex chords and layered instrumentation gives chills down your spine. This symphony is a great addition to any symphony collection.

6) Haydn Symphony No. 94 in G Major

Haydn skillfully creates another thoroughly enjoyable symphony, the "Surprise" Symphony. It comes from the original German nickname "Paukenschlag" meaning base drum impact. The first movement's soft melodies and lifting harmonies may possibly put one to sleep. Haydn, knowing this, created a simple melody followed by a large "impact" in the second movement to wake those who fell asleep. The third and fourth movements provide a delightful ending to this classical symphony.

7) Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in e minor

Dvorak created this symphony in 1893. It's hard to believe something that can sound this modern is over 100 years old. He composed the symphony in the spirit of the folklore African Americans and American Indians after coming to America. He achieved his greatest success at the world premier of this symphony with the New York Philharmonic on American soil.

8) Ives Symphony No. 1 in d minor

Ives wrote this symphony after being influenced by Dvorak Symphony No. 9 (mvmt. 2), Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (mvmt. 3), Schubert's "Unfinished" symphony (mvmt. 1), and Tchaikovsky’s "Pathétique" (mvmt. 4). He clearly had good taste! It is interesting to see how one person can interpret all these symphonies and put them into "his own words". This symphony is a must have for any collection.

9) Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major

Brahms was heavily influenced by Beethoven. This symphony, although not widely successful, was most significant after Schumann. It follows the "regular" four movement structure as most symphonies do. Its richness of orchestration lies between Beethoven and Mahler. In the first movement, Brahms presents three different motifs simultaneously as the main theme. The fourth movement has a flavor of the final movement in Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

10) Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in d minor

Last but not least, there is Beethoven's ninth symphony. Possibly Beethoven's greatest work, almost everyone knows the "Ode to Joy" chorus of the final movement. Beethoven took the symphony to a new level by adding choir to the orchestration. The text in the final movement was from Schiller's "An die Freude". Any symphonic library isn't complete until there is a recording of this symphony. Its wide range of dynamics and orchestration provides hours of enjoyment.