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.