Los Angeles blogger and friend of Classical Life CK Dexter Haven has issued a challenge that is being taken up around the classical blogosphere. Pick nine numbered symphonies for your “proverbial desert island survival kit,” without repeating composers or numbers. (Update: Sorry. To be perfectly clear, your picks need to correspond to the numbers, 1-9, i.e. No. 1 has to be a First symphony, No. 2 a Second symphony, etc.) I had a touch of insomnia last night, so I came up with my own. I decided to adhere to Alex Ross‘s suggestion to not include symphonies by Beethoven (too easy to, really). I decided to ignore Mr. Dexter Haven’s rule that only numbered symphonies could be listed, because it allows me to include two of my favorite composers (both of whom did not write numbered symphonies) and two of my favorite symphonies, period.
One further note from me. As Mr. Dexter Haven is calling this a desert island list, I take that to mean that we are to choose the symphonies we like best, which is not necessarily the same thing as picking the symphonies that are the greatest for each number. The list:
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (his first)*
Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 2
Schumann: Symphony No. 3, “Rhenish”¹
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements (his fourth)*
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6²
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 7, “Sinfonia antartica”³
Schubert: Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
*If I had to pick all numbered symphonies I would choose Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, “Classical,” and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, “Romantic.”
¹ Haven’t seen the “Rhenish” mentioned by anyone. It’s magnificent.
² I’m pretty sure no one will pick this one either, but it’s a sleeper.
³ I had the pleasure of performing as narrator of this piece.
A great challenge, sure to stimulate discussion.
Los Angeles and New York have chimed in, so I think it’s time for Detroit to weigh in
David Diamond, Symphony No. 1
Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2
William Schuman, Symphony No. 3
Charles Ives, Symphony No. 4
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 6
Prokofiev, Symphony No. 7
Bruckner, Symphony No. 8
And if you can only pick one Ninth, it has to be Beethoven.
I would have put John Corigliano’s first symphony on the list, but Mr Haven already has it.
Thanks for the idea
If you’re name is Schuman(n), you apparently hit your stride with your Third Symphony.
Fun challenge. OK, here’s my list. And not including (as per the rules) a Beethoven was painful!
Here’s my list with comments
1 – Brahms (the greatest “first”)
2 – Ives (a personal favorite of mine)
3 – Lutoslawski (a late 20th century masterpiece)
4 – Shostakovich (I love his symphonies and this wild one seems to have it all)
5 – Mahler (figured I had to choose one and the 5th is amazing)
6 – Dvorak (his most unrelentingly joyous symphony)
7 – Allan Pettersson (a dark, brooding and powerful work from 1960s Sweden)
8 – Haydn “Le Soir”*
9 – Bruckner (I’ll take the recent four movement completion)
*I figured the “low” numbers would knock out Haydn and Mozart but that Haydn trilogy of #6-8 is terrific and I couldn’t NOT include Haydn.
Some great ones listed by Tim and Good Music Speaks. I really thought about taking a Vaughan Williams. I love #7 too and, um coincidentally, I’ve conducted that piece. Also glad to see the Wm Schuman and Symphony in Three Movements, both of which I’m a big fan of.
This is really tough because I don’t like to pick bests, but the numbering makes it interesting.
1 – Vaughn-Williams
10-Mahler, what can I do?
This is way too hard.
In answer to your question … there is a completed Schubert 10th.
To make it more challenging for myself, i have decided this time to completely avoid both Beethoven and Mahler, because they make it too easy to plug virtually any hole from 1 through 9.
Starting with the best symphonic debut by a teenager, and ending with two of the best “endless” ones…
Cheater!!!! Hahahaha. (Clearly, you’re not the only one . . . ).
I figured I’d get a few people putting a given composer’s only symphony (Bizet, Franck to name just a couple) in the #1 spot, and I’m actually a little surprised you put the Berlioz there. The Stravinsky in the #4 spot because it was his fourth was a brilliant way to flout the rules.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rhenish, but there’s no way I could have put it on my list over the Mahler or even, say, the Copland or Lutoslawski. It’d be in a tie with Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” perhaps.
Thanks so much for joining in!
9. Bruckner (already used up my Beethoven slot. I like the 7th more).
1. Hindemith, Mathis der Maler
6. Vaughan Williams
7. Tchaikovsky Manfred
8. Schubert Unfinished
I had to check to see that the “Mathis der Maler” Symphony was his first, but indeed it is, and a very good and unique choice.
However, just to be precise, Manfred is NOT Tchaikovsky’s seventh, because it was written between his Fourth and Fifth.
Fine, because you twisted my arm ( uh, I mean personally entreated me) to take your challenge, I accept.
For the record, a list which included several of Beethoven’s nine symphonies (especially, Nos. 3,6,7 and 9) would have been a more accurate reflection of my symphonic tastes.
Before gaining a full grasp of the rules, I’d planned to go with all nine of them and call it a day. But given the restrictions under which we all must play, it might be possible to survive on the following:
1. Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique”
3. Schumann “Rhenish”
4. Mendelssohn “Italian”
6. Tchaikovsky “Pathetique”
8. Schubert “Unfinished”
9. Beethoven “Choral”
This little exercise turned out to be great fun, after all… Still, the thought of limiting myself to just one Beethoven symphony…Nah, that’s a bridge too far.
I was intrigued with your choice of Vaughan Williams’ No. 7 and with the note that you had narrated it. I’ve always wanted to do that. Here’s my list: http://www.insidesocal.com/classact/2015/01/07/nine-symphonies-for-a-desert-island/