Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

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Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

I'd like to get some discussion going on this one. To be honest, after Sibelius and Shostakovitch I am struggling to name them. The names don't exactly reel off the tongue easily do they? Well not to me they don't!

Sibelius - like all of them which are very different in mood - I have heard some unkind comments about no. 1 in my time being 'bad Tchaikowsky', 2 is majestic, 3 is taut and under-played, 4 is sombre, 5 heroic, 6 is my personal favourite as it has great clarity - 7 I admire but do not find its one-movement structure easy to follow.

Personal favourites of Shostakovitch would be - 5/8/10 and 15. I sat through an unforgettable performance back in the late 80's by the Philharmonia of 15 under Kurt Sanderling in the RFH.

Where do I go after that? Well Lutoslawski made a lot of headway towards the end of his life with 3 and 4, 3 in particular. 1 is also good but 2 is not for the faint-hearted - a mass of sound which seems to get forever bigger.

I notice that Penderecki is well on his way to his nine - there is even a CD of his eighth out. Well 1 is radical sound blocks, 2 drew harsh praise from some critics for turning the clock back to Bruckner, 3 and 4 are very interesting structurally. I don't know the rest. There is just something rather dark in Penderecki's psyche which I am not sure I quite get, and it runs right through his music from the enfant terrible of the early works like Anaklasis to the later symphonies and concertos.

After that I like Panufnik very much, but his minimal motivic material strikes some listeners as miserly. I have a preference for Havergal Brian (see other thread on his symphonies) who I personally think is neglected. Any other really decent British 20th C symphonists?

Apart from the odd work then like Berio's wonderful Sinfonia my knowledge of truly wonderful 20th C symphonists starts to dry up a bit!

Recommendations for those composers I need to explore?

Regards

Partsong

 

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

Mahler's Fourth Symphony premiered in November 1901, meaning that it, along with his subsequent works, fall into the category "twentieth-century symphonies."  Incidentally, the centennial of his death is Wednesday.

Vaughan Williams' nine symphonies all fit the designation.  Nos. 3 and 5 are my favorites -- 3 is such an elegaically beautiful work, clearly RVW's response to WWI, and 5 is his most well-known symphony for good reason.  On a related note, Elgar's 2 1/2 symphonies date from the early twentieth century, too.  I've never been terribly fond of Elgar (although I think his cello concerto is the greatest work for the instrument and orchestra ever composed).  That his Third Symphony, left unfinished at his death and only performable because of contemporary composer Anthony Payne's "elaborations," is his best work in the genre says everything you need to know about Elgar the Symphonist.

Likewise, I wish I could bring myself to an appreciation of Prokofiev's works in the genre, but I just can't.  He simply wasn't a natural symphonist.  It's too bad -- I find the Alexander Nevsky cantata extraordinary and the Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19, is easily one of my three favorite concertos for the instrument.  Stravinsky wrote a handful of symphonies.  Rattle's recent BPO disc is an excellent introduction to the three major works -- Symphony in C, Symphony in Three Movements, and Symphony of Psalms.  Boulez's older BPO disc is well worth seeking out -- his recording of the Symphony of Psalms is the best I know and he includes the Symphonies of Wind Instruments in lieu of the Symphony in C.  Khachaturian wrote three symphonies; his Third, a one-movement work which calls for a 15-man trumpet choir, is one of the sexiest-but-most-unkown works of the twentieth century.  Loris Tjeknavnorian and the Armenian PO made a fantastic recording back in the 1990s on the now-defunct ASV label.  While we're on the subject of Russian symphonists, I love Shostakovich as well; 4, 7, and 10 are my favorite works of his.

Personally, I think the least-known and most under-appreciated symphony of the twentieth century is Erich Wolfgang Korngold's one work in the genre, the Symphony in F sharp major, Op. 40.  At one point ten years ago, recordings of the work under Andre Previn, Franz Welser-Möst, and Edward Downes were all available.  It's a shame it isn't better known and more frequently programmed and performed.

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

A number of English composers who can stand comparison with their European contemporaries come to mind: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Moeran, Rubbra, Walton, Rawsthorne, Arnold, Berkeley, Alwyn.

GWP

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

Sibelius yes, but I've never really been grabbed by Shostakovitch or Mahler. Vaughan Williams' symphonies are amongst his greatest works and in my opinion stand comparison with any others; and those of Bax are personal favourites.

I woud add 1 & 3 by Tippett to the list and if you want something more up to date check out the relatively recent Dutton recording of David Matthews 2 & 6.

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

I would like to put forward Martinu and Honegger. Honegger 1 often gets overlooked in favour of 2 & 3 (especially as Karajan made such  classic recordings of these two), but it grabs you by the throat right from the off - anyone into that machine age, futurist sound should hear it. It took me a while to fully appreciate the magic of the Martinu symphonies, but now I find they have a disctrete charm all of their own. All 6 are remarkably consistent, with 3,4 & 5 being my favourites. I was also going to mention Roussel-  No.3 could happily  sit in any Top 10 of 20th century symphonies.

 

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

 

Thanks folks!

I do like the Elgar 2 and 1/2, though I haven't heard Payne's version of the third.

Mahler fourth I have always liked - the delightful vocal last movement is very memorable indeed.

I have to admit that I am not familiar with the symphonies of some British composers Walton, Moeran, Rawsthorne and the Tippett -  I will explore hopefully. I am also in need I think of exploring the Vaughan Williams - the London Symphony I like.

I have a CD of Rubbras's 3/4 - Lyrita/Norman Del Mar. I gather that 5/7/ and 8 are generally regarded as fine symphonies by Rubbra.

The Honegger Symphonie Liturgique - yes that is a real masterpiece - heard it at the Proms a couple of years ago. It has real momentum.

Stravinsky - Symphony of Psalms is a special work. Korngold I need to explore as well.

Regards

Partsong

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

Let's not forget some American composers.  Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, William Schuman, Samuel Barber, Virgil Thomson and Roy Harris come immediately to mind.  Also Leonard Bernstein.  I'm sure with a little more thought others would come to mind.  Care to add to this list?

Bliss
RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

I think Nielsen deserves to be on any list of great c20 symphonists.  Among Scandinavians Vagn Holmboe is also well worth exploring. And I have gratly enjoyed the symphonies of Alberic Magnard.

 

djlg

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

Also the Finnish composer Uuno Klami, whose 1st Symphony is a delight from beginning to end.  I haven't quite come to grips with his 2nd Symphony though.  And thanks to djlgrover above for reminding us of Nielsen, whose 6 symphonies I actually prefer to Sibelius's 7.  Or is that because I am of Danish extraction?

Bliss
RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

I think there´s a difference between people who write symphonies, even great ones, and symphonists. On 20th century symphonies and symphonists from the USA, Ives´ 4th is one of the most incredible things I have ever heard. Carter´s Symphony of Three Orchestras and more recently his Symphonia are wonderful, but the best of the symphonists for me, by a long way is Roger Sessions, I´ve yet to hear one that was anything less than excellent.

For anyone who wants more ideas about 20th century composers and symphonies a look through some of the other threads in this forum will provide with more than ample information. 

RE: Who were the great twentieth century symphonists?

Has Robert Simpson already been mentioned? His Ninth is a masterpiece. E.J. Moeran and George Dyson both wrote one wonderful symphony (in G) each. I also rate Havergal Brian very highly. Walton's First is tremendous. Rawsthorne and Alwyn wrote strong pieces. Elgar's two symphonies are classics. And Granville Bantock mustn't be forgotten either, his Celtic and Hebridean symphonies are terrific (Vernon Handley's recording is unbeaten here). Bax' first three symphonies are excellent. I also love Magnard, Sibelius, Nielsen, Honegger, and Korngold's only symphony. Another strong and beautiful piece is the American Roy Harris' Third Symphony. And Dutch composer Léon Orthel's Second Symphony is as short as it is effective. Then there are the Swede Allan Pettersson's 15 symphonies, the core of which, to me, are symphonies 6-8, though No. 15 is strong, too. The Dane Rued Langgaard is another fascinating symphonist (best ones, IMO, 4, 6, 10 and 16). Et cetera et cetera....

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