Here’s an interesting game: pick your nine favorite symphonies without repeating a composer, and with each symphony sequentially numbered in a conventional sense.
Prokofiev 1: Elegantly constructed. As close to Bach as I can get in this list, since he didn’t write conventionally numbered symphonies
Brahms 2: Efficient motivic development makes this (and Brahms’s other symphonies) deceptively simple. Rhythmic content plays an equal role with harmonic and melodic themes.
Mahler 3: It’s possible I don’t need to say anything about this work. It overshadows nearly every other symphony ever written in almost every way. Plus there are three high-profile trombone solos in the first movement!
Bruckner 4: This symphony is not interesting in terms of thematic development or historical innovation, but Bruckner is second to none in evoking visceral reactions with stunning vertical architecture.
Shostakovich 5: Striking use of art in a political context. When the last movement is played well, the panic of a forced march is evident over the surface layer of nationalism and triumph.
Beethoven 6: It’s hard to pick just one Beethoven, but I love the directness of the sixth. No pretense, just music.
Sibelius 7: The layers of complexity make this piece like a well-aged wine. No one line is spectacular, but there is depth and strength in the combination of all the parts.
Dvorak 8: I have loved this piece since I first heard it, even more than the New World.
Schubert 9: Named “The Great” for a reason. This is one of the last symphonies with Classical elegance and restraint, but one of the first with Romantic emotional vocabulary.
What are your thoughts on my list? What’s on your list?