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The greatest 20th-century symphonies

Discussion in 'classical' started by marshanp, Jul 2, 2019.

  1. marshanp

    marshanp ellipsis addict

    Just a bit of fun, really... but there are Rules! (there had to be rules, or it would get out of hand):

    - nothing written before 1900 or after 1999!
    - no more than 4 composers
    - no more than 1 symphony per composer
    - three should be acknowledged masterpieces, so we can see where you're coming from
    - one must be an outsider whose music can stand comparison with your Big Three... please tell us why

    My Big Three:

    Sibelius 7
    Britten Sinfonia da Requiem
    Shostakovich 13

    and my outsider: Rubbra 4
    because it is beautiful and essentially serene, and does not yield its secrets at first hearing

    What, no Mahler? No, because I think that his 3rd was his greatest...
     
  2. windhoek

    windhoek The Phoolosopher

    Mahler 3
    Shostakovich 5
    Pending*
    Pending*
    * Will update thread in due course.
     
  3. marshanp

    marshanp ellipsis addict

    Thank you for your contribution, but... Referee!

    While I agree that Mahler's Third is a towering masterpiece... it was published in 1898, so does not qualify!
     
    narabdela likes this.
  4. windhoek

    windhoek The Phoolosopher

    Sorry, I should have checked its year of publication. My current submissions, then, are:
    Mahler - Das Lied von der Erde
    Shostakovich 5
     
  5. gingermrkettle

    gingermrkettle Deep vein trombonist

    Shostakovich 10
    Sibelius 3
    RVW 3

    Outlier: Henze's 9th, an astonishingly powerful work
     
  6. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I’ll really struggle with this one as I’m just not a symphony person really (chamber is my thing) and so many of my favourite 20th century composers just didn’t do them (e.g. 2nd Viennese School) and when the minimalists (e.g. Glass) attempted they were a pale shadow of their smaller ensemble works. As such I think I’ll go rather popular and go with:

    Mahler - 9
    Sibelius - 7
    Górecki - 3

    Position 4 would almost certainly be Arvo Part, but I’m not sufficiently familiar with his symphonies to be able to pick a specific one. IIRC you can fit the lot on a single CD, so maybe all of them!

    Henze is a good option too, but again I’d need to revisit and assess again (I’ve got a stack of about 5 or 6 DGG albums on vinyl, but can’t remember exactly what!).

    PS I’ve just not clicked with Shostakovich’s symphonies yet, though I absolutely love the string quartets. I have this issue with many composers. I’d maybe have liked to stick some Stravinsky in there, but again I just don’t think the symphonies are his best work (give me Rite Of Spring any day!).
     
  7. Barrymagrec

    Barrymagrec pfm Member

    Walton - 1
    Nielsen - 6
    Suk - Asrael

    Vaughan Williams - 9 - because as his last symphony it seems to point the way ahead rather than simply repeat the past.

    Any could change at any moment.
     
  8. marshanp

    marshanp ellipsis addict

    There's no rule to say that you can't have another go :)

    The Nielsen and Suk were contenders for my choice...
     
  9. alanbeeb

    alanbeeb pfm Member

    Nielsen 5
    Prokofiev 6
    Shostakovich 10
    Vaughan Williams 5

    I don't think the 20th century really began musically until 1913 so haven't included Mahler's 9th.

    Which is the outlier here.... Well Prokofiev's 6th always seems to get overlooked in favour of his 5th, which I just find too bombastic and just what the regime expected in 1943.... While the 6th is more enigmatic, cynical and deeper.

    RVWs 5th, yes it's deeply conservative but the mid WWII context, the optimism and eventual arrival in sunlit uplands make it great IMO.

    I'd choose Maxwell Davies 1st as more of an outlier but can't really explain why it appeals to me so much. Quite like Rubbra's 4th too, and his 11th.
     
  10. Stunsworth

    Stunsworth pfm Member

    Mahler 9
    Shostakovitch 5
    Vaughan Williams London
    Robert Simpson 1

    The Robert Simpson is the outsider obviously. I love his music - the string quartets in particular are well worth checking out, but he seems to have disappeared from the radar since his death - also the fact that he worked at the BBC meant any accusations of nepotism were avoided by not featuring his work that much.
     
  11. gustavm

    gustavm pfm Member

    Mahler 9 or just about any from Mahler 4 (just 1900 I believe) onwards
    Sibelius 2 (premiered in 1902)
    Elgar 1
    Shostakovitch 5
     
  12. gustavm

    gustavm pfm Member

    Just re-read the OP and noticed I should choose an outsider.
    I'll exclude the more mainstream composers (Nielsen, Prokofiev, VW, Stravinsky and others)

    and swap Shostakovich 5 for Malcolm Arnold's 5th Symphony.

    Is it a great symphony? Not really I don't think, certainly not in the same league as those by the above. He creates a very brilliant and exciting orchestral sound though, and this symphony (with its Dennis Brain memorial movement) is very moving.
     
  13. marshanp

    marshanp ellipsis addict

    Malcolm Arnold is very difficult to assess... if assessment is necessary (this whole thread is based on a very shaky premise). His 5th even more than most of his output.

    One could argue that "very moving" (with which I absolutely agree) = great...

    I certainly considered Arnold 5 as my outsider.
     
  14. mjw

    mjw pfm Member

    Mahler 9
    Shostakovich 15
    VW 6 (sub Gor 3 if VW is too mainstream. If Gor is mainstream I give up).
    Sibelius 7
     
  15. narabdela

    narabdela who?

    Sibelius 5
    Vaughan 2 (London)
    Mahler 9

    Outsider: Honegger 3 (started off thinking "I'm going to hate this", and ended up loving it)
     
  16. George J

    George J Herefordshire member

    The trouble for me is that I am not over-enthusiastic for almost all 20th. century symphonies, though I am absolutely going to exclude Sibelius from my general lack of enthusiasm!

    I suppose I would say that my favourites are Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven, but for the sake of argument any one of those for top billing in the terms asked.

    Next is Walton's First.

    I have just remembered that as a child I enjoyed Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, though it must be forty-five years since I last heard it!

    Apart from these, I have tried and failed to find any that did not leave me cold or lowered in spirits. But I hope that you will forgive my Sibelius and Walton enthusiasms.

    Best wishes from George
     
  17. herb

    herb music live

    I would go for a Mahler, Sibelius, Shostakovich selection.

    My outsider choice would be Tippett's 3rd Symphony because it has haunted me for 35 years
     
  18. Tantris

    Tantris pfm Member

    I'd like to include something by Messiaen, but the Turangalila is not one of his great pieces, in my view, so my list is;

    Zemlinsky - Lyric Symphony
    Stockhausen - Gruppen
    Elliott Carter - Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei

    Roy Harris - Third Symphony

    Also an honourable mention for Nicholas Maw's Odyssey, which I think can be included as the twentieth century did reshape established forms in many genres.
     
  19. marshanp

    marshanp ellipsis addict

    If Sibelius is your thing and you struggle to find enthusiasm for a fourth 20th-century symphonist... may I suggest that you try the Second symphony by Douglas Lilburn.
     
  20. Nic Robinson

    Nic Robinson Moderator

    Bartok Concerto for Orchestra
    RVW 5
    Walton 1
    Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms

    (the top spot will always be the Bartok. Other placings may vary! Haven't picked Rachmaninov 2 as essentially Romantic)
     

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