Five movements to help you regain a thirst for orchestral symphonies

(that is if you’ve lost it…) (if not just to help you gain a further thirst)

Evening! I’ve been very busy at school doing mocks and preparing for a concert at Glyndbourne this Sunday which should go very well! (bar brass group but we’ll see about that later!) This shows how much I want to write about these masterpieces because well.. you’ll find out just keep reading.

On my journey home today I was listening to a Bruckner symphony (to be revealed later) when I thought about other symphonies I absolutely couldn’t live without and listening to them really changes my perception of life in general. I want to share my hit list of top 5 bangers (from the late romantic/20th century eras) which have certainly affected me and I hope will affect you.

5. Der Rosenkavalier Suite (not a symphony) by Richard Strauss

This recording isn’t half bad (Daniele Gatti certainly doesn’t hold back):

The original opera was written in 1910 and the suite portrays all the utterly butterly loveliness of the opera, which, by the way is one of the best going. The blaring horns at the beginning remind you of why the brass section is the best ever. If there’s one thing Strauss is famous for, it’s writing the most heart-throbbing melodies and then throw in confusion all over the shop just to keep you engaged. The melody at 2:30 is sensational and the passion shown at 4:20 (from Act II when the silver rose is presented) is just unbeatable. The confusion of 9:10 to 10:00 sums up the Baron but then is followed by one of the most sparkling waltzes of all time-ever emphasizing Strauss’ genius. The harmony of the preceding minutes is just incredible, but by far my favourite part is the waltz from 21:19 to the end-terrific writing for percussion!

4. Shostakovich Symphony No.5 in D minor Op.47-4th Movement Allegro non troppo

Best recording: LSO with Mstislav Rostropovich

Shostakovich spent much of his life under the oppressive regime of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and this symphony isn’t hiding the strains on his life. Neither are his Harry Potter glasses to be honest…

In all seriousness, this movement is absolutely incredible. You may have noticed by now that I like the trombones and at 3:30 Shos gives us a little teaser of what’s to come, because this piece is full of the fact that Russia wasn’t having a great time, and needless to say Shostakovich wasn’t going to sit there and let it pass him by.

At 4:35-5:10 you get the gist of what’s going on here. 7:25 is very eerie and really intrigues me because we go from Schoenberg to 7:40 with the Harp very quickly-I’m not sure even Shostakovich knows whats going on here. Anyway enough waffle, let’s get to the point. 11:00 to the end is some of the simplest yet most brilliant strain being let loose. I’ll tell you what; the Violinists arms must be tired by the end of this. If you want, listen to the 1st movement from 7:30-9:00 for a bit, he’s pretty angry here too… maybe his bacon sandwich went cold.

3. Don Juan (1888) by Richard Strauss (once again not a symphony (he’s too good))

Strauss returns again! This receives a hearty welcome, but that’s only because they all know what’s coming… Despite the brilliant impression of a robot, Karajan just gets this music and I don’t think it could be portrayed by a better person.

For the last few minutes I’ve been trying to find good spots in this piece to share with you but to be quite frank this is just all incredible. The textures created by this man are off the scale superb and the theme is an absolute cracker.

In my humble opinion the ending should without a doubt be at 17:20, but I guess no one can be quite as good as me… only joking! no not really… anyway there are much better endings to come so read on…

As you can tell I’m loosing a bit of enthusiasm so just listen to No.2 and you’ll like it.

2. Shostakovich Symphony No.10 2nd Movement

I don’t need to do much explaining here, but this movement is absolutely bloody sensational. In fact, I’ve just found the perfect person to explain it for me (from 27:53):


I would like to hear someone complain about this performance. I would then precede to obliterate them.

I can feel your anticipation for No.1, and I promise it won’t disappoint.

1. Bruckner Symphony No.8 in C minor: IV Finale – Feirlich, nicht schnell

Recording: Berlin Phil with Barenboim (it had to be didn’t it?!!)

I don’t want to talk to much about this, because the music not only speaks for itself but actually shouts for itself. It was written just a year before Don Juan (No.3) and Bruckner (according to some) is one of the most underrated composers, whether he’s underrated we can leave for another day when I’m not so knackered but what goes without saying is that this piece is AMAZING from beat 1 to the MEGA ending 22 minutes in.

The first time I came across this piece was here (which you should listen to first):

Listening to this, from about 2 bars in you know it’s going to be a banger, but this is just not the same as the real thing, which I invite you to listen to know. My speakers just make a squeaky noise so I advise you don’t listen to it at full volume (if you can help yourself!)

It may be useful for you to know what to listen to, because in 22 minutes of perfection it’s difficult to find the best (like it’s difficult to find a favourite ruby on your tiara (something I get a lot..)), so here goes my choices:

  • 0:00-1:00 The original theme (seen in the trombone excerpt video) which gives you an idea how much better this movement gets (I know, I wouldn’t believe me either)
  • 2:40-3:10 This is just indescribable. A mixture of horns and what I believe to be Wagner Tuba’s (although I haven’t got neither the time nor effort to check that now). This is just WOWOWWOOWOW
  • 9:30-10:50 (with a peak at 10:30) The second time this movement gets better and better. Bruckner knows his stuff, and he teases us beyond belief. It’s nearly as bad as a 2 minute V7-I classical era ending…
  • 10:53-11:25 Just when you think it’s all over, the brashness turns into the most beautiful melody based on a banger… I mean how do you do that, well he managed it…
  • 13:10-13:50 I mean really? It just gets higher and higher, you just get wower and wower.
  • 13:58-14:21 TROMBONES!!!!!!
  • 20:10-END. The timpani heartbeat sets us off, and then we gradually build up. As if Bruckner’s theme wasn’t good enough, the horns go off on their own with a sensational counter-melody. At 20:50 just the best thing happens ever. He’s brings us down gently, only to power back in at 21:25. The rest is unexplainable-TRUMPETS, TIMPANI, TROMBONES. That is all.
  • Best ending ever.

The sheer power of this movement is overwhelming, and if you get an opportunity to see it live then do. And also bring me.

If I need to do much more explaining then I have failed.


I just want to apologise because I’m really absolutely wacked and still have a lot of work left to do so this was sort of rushed. I hope you get the idea.

Over and out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s