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The Symphony for the Twentieth century.

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Showing 1-25 of 322 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 Nov 2012 17:52:50 GMT
JayJayDee says:
I nominate Shostakovich 13th Symphony as standing head and shoulders above the competition.
Will elaborate later, but interested to hear alternative nominations first.

To clarify...I mean a symphony that can represent the twentieth century, not just one that was [coincidentally] written in the twentieth century. Yes, there are half a dozen Mahler Symphonies and some major radical Stravinsky offerings that superbly bookended the beginning of the twentieth century.

But, knowing what we now know about the political economy of the 20th century there are reasons for my choice.

This magnificent symphony also accommodates some searing observations and great truths from a great poet; it combines sincerity, clarity of utterance, pathos, drama and symphonic rigour within its 60 minute duration.

My nomination is DSCH#13.

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 18:23:24 GMT
Bruce says:
The one work that towers over the second half of the 20th Century is Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie. It is a substantial work that is now widely played and has become part of the symphonic repertoire - in virtually every Prom season. It is truly a work of the 20th C in that it could not have existed or been performed in a previous century - due to the instrumentation and demands on the players. But the real clincher is that it sounds so unlike anything that had gone before, while retaining enough structure and coherence for it be popular with audiences and every performance I have attended has been overwhelmingly applauded.

Koussevitsky said : "My opinion is this symphony is after Le Sacre du Printemps the greatest composition composed in our century. This symphony is new in every way; in melodic line, in harmonical structure, in form."

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 18:45:49 GMT
Edgar Self says:
I respect the choice of Shostakovich but wouldn't necessarily nominate his Seventh or Thirteenth
, tied as they are to specific events and therefore somewhat topical, although musically the Seventh appeals to me more. But if not those, then which? Four, Five, Eight, Fourteen? Perhaps.

But I don't know any more representative 20th-century sy9mphonies than those of Mahler, Sibelius, or Shostakovich, and of Sibelius I'd consider only the first two. No doubt time will tell.

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 19:09:20 GMT
Last edited by the author on 9 Nov 2012 19:10:51 GMT
JayJayDee says:
I don't see how the thirteenth is tied to any one specific event, Edgar.
It has always been a mistake to call it the Babi Yar symphony. And the Babi Yar massacre can stand in as a metaphor for any one of the twentieth century's all-too-frequent ethnic cleansing massacres.
The movements that affect me most in the thirteenth are 1, 2, 3 , 4 and 5. That is to say- all of them. The second celebrates the ability of humour (absolutely throughout the ages) to defeat oppression by subversion... the third celebrates women in a respectful manner that fundamentally is actually very pro-feminist, the Fourth deals with the ending of fear of political persecution (when the nightmare might not really have ended) and does it in a very Kafka-esque manner. And the fifth is the most inspirational call to intellectual honesty that would put all the crooked bankers, career politicians and capitalist loan sharks to shame just as much as it challenges the apparatchiks and party-grovellers.
I find that there is nothing specific to any particular time in DSCH 13 other than the reference to the lack of monument at Babi Yar. But - by extension - most of the massacres of the twentieth century also have no monument, whether in Kosovo, Vietnam, Rwanda or elsewhere.

And that's just the poems.

I have known this symphony since the late sixties when a dim Everest import brought us the 1962 premier performance.DSCH had not even tackled his 14th and 15th Symphonies at this time, and I was absolutely enthralled by the whole package....words and music. I then devoured masses of Yevtushenko and all the symphonies of DSCH that I had not yet heard.

I truly expect this symphony to come to represent the political changes and the fundamental issues that represent the twentieth century. If any other piece of music comes even close, I am happy to hear its case argued!

The Fourth is massively important, the eighth is magnificent, the tenth is a real classic symphony, but I wonder if some of our contributors have really given the thirteenth enough attention?

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 19:20:52 GMT
Last edited by the author on 9 Nov 2012 19:22:18 GMT
Impossible choice, but if it has to be a Shostakovich symphony, then surely No.10

Nielsen 5th
Martinu 5th
Sibelius 7th
Tubin 2nd
Holmboe 6th
Prokofiev 6th
Messiaen Turangalila
Vaughan Williams 3 or 5 or 6
Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms

And we haven't even got onto the American symphony, of which there are one or two half decent works.....

There IS a monument at Babi Yar - I've seen it!

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 20:15:02 GMT
enthusiast says:
If I have JJ's idea right, it is not the best but the one that "encapsulates the century" for us. And that is a difficult matter because the 20th Century was hardly a unified period. Rather, there are surely at least four historical/cultural periods (pre-WW1, between the wars, the 50s and 60s and the last 25 years?).

It is easy to give Mahler the pre-WW1 for his 9th. Unless you think of Sibelius 4 as an alternative, that is.

But from the start of WW1 to the end of WW2 it might be more difficult. Firstly, many of the leading composers of that period did not have particular symphonic aspirations. Among those who did Sibelius (5th, 7th?), Shostakovich (4th, 8th, not 5th or 7th!), Nielsen (4th?) are the contenders but I am not sure which symphony most captures the age.

For the post war period it is even more difficult. Shostakovich 13 might work for the Soviet block but I fear Bruce may be right about Messiaen Turangalila for the West (I say "fear" because it is not a work I love). Perhaps Britten's Cello Symphony combines the two worlds best? But it comes from the early 60s.

None of these works does it for the whole century for me, though. But there is surely no dispute that Shostakovich is the central symphonic voice for the century.

I wonder, if JJ's question had been about concertos rather than symphonies it might have been easier to answer? I would have chosen Bartok's 2nd Piano Concerto for that, I think.

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 21:16:10 GMT
Last edited by the author on 9 Nov 2012 21:16:36 GMT
I could probably never narrow my choice down to one - there are a couple that have already been mentioned that would have crossed my mind but one other that for me never palls and seems to encapsulate the 20th century with all its promises and dangers is Aaron Copland's 3rd.

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 21:54:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Nov 2012 22:05:02 GMT
Edgar Self says:
Shostakovich himself denied that his Seventh was specifically abot, or limited to the German invasion and siege of Leningrad, although he wrote it during the siege, evacuated its score with Akhmatova on a plane carrying her out of the besieged city, and dedicated it "To my native city Leningrad" saying Stalin victimised it and Hitler just finished it off. But dissociating the "Babi Yar" Thirteenth from Babi Yar is a new idea to me. Do Shostakovich and Yevtuschenko know about this? And Is that before or after the revision of Yevtuschenko's text?

The Tenth also is a good choice, although it is at least in part also topical.

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 23:19:55 GMT
Androcleas says:
I heard the 13th Symphony in Novosibirsk on Shostakovich's 100th anniversary - very impressive it was too. Definitely one of his best.

Shostakovich's music is, however, rather abundant in possible candidates. I would say No. 4 is a possible candidate - or No. 8 as well. On balance these are probably my favourite Shostakovich symphonies. One of the Mravinsky recordings of 8 is fantastic.

Maybe Shostakovich 8.

I'd like to suggest something more controversial - but all the same....

How about Nielsen 6?

Posted on 9 Nov 2012 23:45:22 GMT
Roasted Swan says:
JJD says the symphony FOR the 20th century not OF it. So why not Bruckner 9.........?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Nov 2012 00:35:29 GMT
Androcleas says:
How about Mahler 10?

Posted on 11 Nov 2012 20:01:32 GMT
K. Beazley says:
Why do Rachmaninov's symphonies never get mentioned in this context? I'm trying to think of another composer since Mozart & Beethoven who was capable of performing the piano concertos they wrote, & who was also able to write well in that most demanding genre, the symphony, & I really can't think of one. Because that genre is judged more rigorously, are his symphonies deemed to be less of an achievement or less satisfying?

I'm not especially wanting to "break a lance" on his behalf, but I find it intriguing that there is a certain dismissiveness regarding this area of his output.

Posted on 11 Nov 2012 20:11:10 GMT
enthusiast says:
Shostakovich played his piano concertos and was feted as a pianist before he was known as a composer.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Nov 2012 21:16:04 GMT
K. Beazley says:

As was Prokofiev. But Rachmaninov was primarily a performer who composed, in the same way as Paganini & Liszt before him, & neither of those gentlemen, not even Liszt, could be regarded as symphonic composers, Liszt's two examples being more like Tchaikovsky's "Manfred" than true symphonies.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Nov 2012 21:45:40 GMT
Edgar Self says:
Brahms performed both his piano concertos and went on to write symphonies with big ideas that Mahler quoted. He also performed at least one of Chopin's concertos in his youth, and wrote cadenzas for Mozart and Beethoven concertos, so he probably played those also.

Sergei Bortkiewicz isn't so well-known, but wrote three piano concertoos and two symphonies.

Prokofief and Shostakovich, certainly, also Rachmaninoff.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Nov 2012 22:36:30 GMT
K. Beazley says:
All that's fine, but none of it explains why Rachmaninov never gets much credit as a 20th century symphonist.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Nov 2012 05:38:13 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Nov 2012 21:48:15 GMT
John Ruggeri says:

SG wrote only -3- symphonies the first of which His First Symphony (Op. 13, 1896) was premiered on 28 March 1897 in one of a long-running series of "Russian Symphony Concerts", but was brutally panned by critic and nationalist composer César Cui who likened it to a depiction of the ten plagues of Egypt, suggesting it would be admired by the "inmates" of a music conservatory in hell. The deficiencies of the performance, conducted by Alexander Glazunov, were not commented on.

The 2nd and 3rd symphonies which were more successful could have been written just as well in the 19th century as its musical modality hits my ears. That's fine with me but it might diminish him as someone with significant 20th century ideas . In general I love his work but I go to other genres than symphonies more frequently for his music.


Posted on 12 Nov 2012 07:12:15 GMT
JayJayDee says:
Surely both Bruckner and Rachmaninov are composers very much of the nineteenth century, and not just because of the years of composition. A couple of twentieth century devices 'doth not a twentieth century symphony make'.

I'd be intrigued to hear advocates of the Messiaen expand on how Turangalila encapsulates the twentieth century (as distinct from being a towering work written in the 20th C).

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Nov 2012 11:09:45 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Nov 2012 11:10:57 GMT
Bruce says:
As you say - Bruckner is very much a 19th century composer with a classical approach to tempo or time if you like.

Messaien's Turngalila is completely of the 20th Century, as it includes or nods at, all the big innovations of the 20th Century. So - it includes serialism and even rhythmic serialism, as well as having parts that use multiple keys at the same time. Messiaen also includes scientific advances - looking at nature and birdsong, including those in the composition - as well as utilising electronic instruments in the Ondes Martinot.

Messiaen also encapsulated the religious tolerance of the 20th C by including Christian elements alongside Hindu ideas and parts drawn from myth. Composers before, were totally Christian if they included any elements of religion. Finally I would add that the Turangalila has elements of Jazz including a classic walking bass line!

I could go on and there are many elements of rhythm that are uniquely 20th C... but you would need a dissertation to do this question justice!! ;-)

Posted on 12 Nov 2012 13:58:16 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Nov 2012 14:07:46 GMT
mancheeros says:
As tempting as it is to go for Messiaen's 'Turangalila' for all the reasons that have already been stated, and because I happen to adore the work, I'm actually going for Charles Ives's 'Symphony No. 4', composed between 1910 and 1916. While it has the sweep of a romantic symphony, it also has a cacophonous density and intensity that could only come from the 20th century. It's a work of such idiosyncratic boldness that barely contains its many seemingly contradictory elements. Its use of all those different juxtaposed genres (highbrow and humble) pre-figure the century's eventual obsession with polystylism. In that sense it's both a modernist and a postmodernist symphony. Even after all these years I still find it exhilarating and not a little scary.

Posted on 12 Nov 2012 14:12:15 GMT
Bruce says:
"cacophonous density and intensity " - could equally apply to the Turnangalila! ;-)

Posted on 12 Nov 2012 18:23:04 GMT
No one has even mentioned Lutoslawski's Third Symphony, in one movement as another contender. Of the Shostakovitch symphonies I prefer No 10, and then being the deepest thinker about what a symphony should be about you are left with Sibelius no 7 which is really a wonderful example of symphonic message incorporated in one movement yet with all the elements included. It only says the same message via the trombone in each tempi Allegro, adagio, scherzo, allegro moderato once, whereas his predecessors Bruckner has gone for triple returns of a theme and 70-80 minutes of music. Sibelius no 7 is a hymn to the human spirit and endeavour.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Nov 2012 18:55:52 GMT
mancheeros says:
Yes, Bruce "cacophonous density and intensity" could also apply to Turangalila, but the Ivesian variety is much more riotous and dangerous than Messaien's, don't you think? I think that's why Ives's music was misunderstood (at best) or dismissed for so long. There are times when Ives's orchestrations border on chaos, and seem to almost overreach themselves, whereas with Messaien there's always the sense that he's 100 per cent in control. Messiaen's music has an academic polish, whereas Ives's music seems to come from a wilder place.

Posted on 12 Nov 2012 20:00:16 GMT
JayJayDee says:
I don't dispute the qulity of any of the alternative nominations.... but I earnestly question their representation of the twentieth century in preference to Shostakovich 13.

A crude comment could be that many haven't yet listened properly to the music of Yevtushenko through the filter of the poet Shostakovich.... but that would be overly obtuse and not adequately pursuant of a Career.

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Nov 2012 20:44:23 GMT
Bruce says:
Depends on the version - Turangalila can be very wild and Ives can sound contrived..?
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Initial post:  9 Nov 2012
Latest post:  12 Dec 2012

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