Author Topic: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies  (Read 4989 times)

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Offline amw

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Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« on: August 11, 2015, 01:08:07 AM »
List, and describe at some length (if you feel so inspired), your favourite symphonies that were never written, but could have been.

Under this category are included works that the composer started and then abandoned or discarded (e.g. Sibelius's 8th), that the composer planned to write but never did (e.g. Penderecki's 6th, Beethoven's 10th), or 'alternate history' works that may depend on composers having different lifespans (e.g. Mozart's grand funeral symphony in memory of Beethoven) or on other world events being radically different (e.g. the symphony Chopin penned in a feverish fortnight upon hearing of the liberation and independence of Poland in August 1839). Also feel free to include works by fictional characters.

Large, quasi-symphonic works are also acceptable! Such as Ravel's Concerto for Orchestra and so on.

Offline Maestro267

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2015, 01:56:16 AM »
Gershwin's jazz-inspired Symphony. His Piano Concerto showed he could infuse classical/Romantic forms with harmonies and rhythms derived from jazz, so it would've been nice to hear what he would have done with the greatest of all musical forms. Orchestra including a saxophone quartet and orchestral piano.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2015, 01:59:04 AM by Maestro267 »

Offline springrite

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2015, 02:08:00 AM »
I would love a symphony from Puccini. I'd imagine it'd be similar to Rachmaninov but even more schmaltzy 
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Offline Wanderer

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2015, 02:39:20 AM »
Beethoven 10
Brahms 5
Sibelius 8
Mahler 11
Bruckner 10

Offline ritter

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2015, 02:39:44 AM »
Only two cases come to mind  :-[:

Richard Wagner:With only the youthful (and highly derivative) Symphony in C major and Symphony in E major (the latter fragmentary) to his credit, after completing Parsifal , Wagner said he wanted to return to the symphonic genre. This, alas, was not to be, as he died less than a year later  :(. With Bruckner already having expanded the symphonic form to mammoth proportions by then, perhaps these late Wagner symphonies could have been rather interesting, as the composer had mastered long forms in his late music dramas.

Pierre Boulez:  The "angry young man" Boulez compsoed his Second piano sonata in 1948. The work was dubbed by many as a "serial Hammerklavier sonata". It would have been interesting to see the composer do the same with the symphonic form. As far as late Boulez is concerned, I really can't see him composing anything remotely resembling a symphony  ::).

« Last Edit: August 12, 2015, 01:16:09 AM by ritter »
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2015, 10:48:53 PM »
George Butterworth: Symphony
Magnard: Symphony 5
Honegger: Symphony 6
Walton: Symphony 3
Bax: Symphony 8
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2015, 12:43:27 AM »
- Schubert's "10th" the D major sketches from his last year? one movement of which has been completed seem very daring and "visionary" (sounding almost like Mahler). For me, his great C major is still somewhat too "classicist" to show what he was able to (it's more of an analogue to the A minor quartet than to the G major quartet or the string quintet).

- Beethoven's 10th

- a mature symphony (say, early/mid 1820s) from Weber. Not sure whether he could have pulled it off but the three late-ish ouvertures are great.

- Brahms lived about 10 years past his 4th symphony. Had he not written a bunch of great chamber and piano works during that time this would even be more outrageous than it is anyway! So his 5th-7th (at least!) please!!!

- Bartok should have written at least one "real symphony". He developed his own special mix of neo-classicism and modernism in the concertos, the music for strings etc., the last 3 quartets and other pieces but never wrote a symphony. It could have made a great companion to Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements.
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Offline amw

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2015, 03:57:34 AM »
a few others I thought of (that I'd like to hear, anyway):

Jan Václav Voříšek - Symphony No. 3 in B-flat major, Op. 46
Possibly written as a musical response to the Great C Major Symphony of his friend Schubert (circulating widely in manuscript by 1838 if not yet performed), Voříšek's 3rd, with its increase in scale over the classically-paced Nos 1 and 2 and its daring, far-reaching harmonic scheme combined with Beethovenian forward drive, is nowadays often considered the first major work of one of the major composers of Czech Romanticism.

Nikolay Andreevich Roslavets - Symphony No. 4 (for 4 orchestras) in memory of the victims of the Great Patriotic War
When the infighting in the Union of Soviet Composers was definitively resolved by official intervention naming Roslavets's artistic innovations the true face of Soviet art and criticising lighter, more accessible music as influenced by capitalism and bourgeois tastes, Roslavets found the commissions rolling in faster than he could fulfill them, particularly as he was simultaneously engaged in developing a theory of 31-tone equal temperament along with his comrades Ivan Vishnegradsky and Nikolay Obukhov. His failure to develop some of these compositions fully is often considered a factor in his 1938 denunciation, which criticised his music for being imbued with Scriabinesque 'Europeanisms' and insulting the intelligence of Soviet audiences. This symphony was the first commission he received after rehabilitation as well as the first large-scale composition he had written in 31-TET, and thus had an extra importance. The sombre and elegiac tone of the work, combined with its effective antiphonal writing and extreme purity of harmony and line, remains striking to this day.

Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 11 in E-flat major, D.1117
Following his 9th (which stretched the classical form to its very limit) and the 10th (which broke the mold with its subversion of sonata form and hybrid finale), Schubert seemed at a loss as to where to go next in the symphonic form. Several sketched movements instead became part of the F minor Piano Sonata D.1048 (criticised by Schumann for taking almost an hour to play; Schubert obliged by making the metronome marks faster) and the A major String Quintet (with viola) D.1033. The Eleventh Symphony itself had a long germinating period for Schubert, following an intense study of Beethoven's late works as well as the contrapuntal techniques he'd already shown off to great effect in the Second Quintet. Notable features include the telescoping of sonata-allegro and adagio, where the first movement's introduction, after recurring in the development, returns as a full-scale slow movement during the 'recapitulation', and the massive finale (almost 1500 bars) that for the first time in a Schubert work achieves the weight necessary to balance the first movement, and whose stentorian brass chorales must have inspired Wagner and Bruckner among others.

Richard Wagner - Symphony No. 7 in A-flat major
When Wagner decided to turn to instrumental symphonies after the commercial failure of his first operas, he had already sketched the material for a large number of future operatic projects. Much of this ended up becoming the basis for his symphonic works, though only a few of them retained titles. This symphony, his last work in the genre, is based on material originally intended for an opera on the subject of Parsifal, although he eventually opted not to give it a title. One can sense a dramatic sweep in the seemingly endless development—not confined only to the 'development sections', as is usual in Wagner's work—and its avoidance of a traditional symphonic structure in favour of a large one-movement design possibly inspired by Liszt's Sonata in B minor. I don't know why I'm even talking about this at length though, you all know it, you're either complaining about how often conductors undertake Wagner cycles when there are so many other deserving composers, or endlessly comparing timings and arguing over whether Knappertsbusch or Barbirolli is preferable in the Walküre-Symphonie...

Jean Barraqué - Symphonie (dédié à la mémoire de Pierre Boulez)
If Barraqué's Piano Sonata is that of a serial Beethoven, his only symphony is more like that of a serial Wagner or even Mahler—searingly intense, visionary and all-embracing. It remains one of the best-known symphonic works to use electronics, as a fundamental part of the texture (like another instrument) similar to late Shostakovich rather than in opposition to acoustic sounds in the manner of Varèse. This work is generally credited with reviving the symphony for a brief vogue in avant-garde circles, although only Versuch über die Symphonie by Heinz Holliger really cries out for revival these days.

Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2015, 05:29:25 AM »
- Bartok should have written at least one "real symphony". He developed his own special mix of neo-classicism and modernism in the concertos, the music for strings etc., the last 3 quartets and other pieces but never wrote a symphony. It could have made a great companion to Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements.

You could argue that the Concerto for Orchestra is a symphony in all but name. As the term "symphony" became increasingly associated with a sense of grandiosity, some composers preferred to give coy alternative titles to works that were legitimately symphonies. When I heard John Adams speak before the New York premiere of his "Naïve and Sentimental Music," he was asked if this work wasn't really a symphony, to which Adams replied: "Well, I don't know about a symphony . . . . "
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2015, 06:01:07 AM »
You could argue that the Concerto for Orchestra is a symphony in all but name.

Ditto the Music for Strings, Percussion & Bojangles.
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Offline jochanaan

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2015, 07:03:34 AM »
Robert Schumann: Symphony #6.  I specify #6 because the Overture, Scherzo and Finale is to all purposes a symphony without a slow movement. :) Schumann's symphonies show a steady sense of progression; I would love to see what he could have done with a truly large-scale work, perhaps with voices, a la Beethoven 9. ;D (On the other hand, Mendelssohn's Symphony #2 "Lobgesang" is not his strongest...)
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #11 on: August 12, 2015, 08:52:44 AM »
I think that the "Music for strings..." has probably that strange, "objective" (sachlich) title on purpose to avoid the romantic/bombastic connotations of "symphony". (Of course the combination of instruments would also be rather strange for a neoclassicist symphony.)
I agree that it could be argued that the Concerto for orchestra  is some kind of sinfonia concertante with almost the whole orchestra given concertance parts.
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #12 on: August 12, 2015, 09:19:31 AM »
I think that the "Music for strings..." has probably that strange, "objective" (sachlich) title on purpose to avoid the romantic/bombastic connotations of "symphony". (Of course the combination of instruments would also be rather strange for a neoclassicist symphony.)

Viz. your parenthesis . . . I reflected on that for a while before posting.  I thought at first of the Shostakovich Fourteenth, though that is arguably a symphonic song-cycle rather than a symphony (the piece he first began writing to serve as the Fourteenth, became instead the Second Cello Concerto). Then, I thought about any number of symphonies for strings (the Hartmann Fourth, the Honegger Second, the Schuman Fifth, the Chávez Fifth) . . . so the idea of a symphony for strings, augmented by percussion, did not strike me as much of a stretch at all.
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Offline Earth and Air and Rain

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #13 on: August 12, 2015, 10:46:53 AM »
Beethoven 10
Brahms 5
Sibelius 8
Mahler 11
Bruckner 10

One certainly wonders what more these giants might have given the world.  How would Mahler react to the great war?  What if Sibelius had changed his mind, completing the 8th and more?  Beethoven, though...  His 9th was a pretty conclusive mic drop.   ;D


George Butterworth: Symphony

Such a terrible loss to English music, Butterworth one of the finest composers lost in the war.  In a similar vein I wonder if Gerald Finzi had lived long enough, would he master the larger forms and produce a symphony?  His final opus, the cello concerto, is often wonderful, but even a Finzi devotee must admit it showed he wasn't quite there yet.  Anachronistic as he was, and with his great friend Vaughan Williams' example (particularly the 5th), we may very well have seen a beautiful English symphony in the 1960s unlike anything of its time.  At least we know the lyrical slow movement would be strong!

Fauré's music remains a great corrective to the self-seeking vulgarity which seeps progressively into the fabric of our artistic life...  We have to continue to believe in a world where it is possible for one tenor gently to sing 'Clair de lune' without being drowned by three bellowing 'O sole mio'.

Online Brian

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #14 on: August 12, 2015, 01:55:29 PM »
Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 11 in E-flat major, D.1117
Following his 9th (which stretched the classical form to its very limit) and the 10th (which broke the mold with its subversion of sonata form and hybrid finale), Schubert seemed at a loss as to where to go next in the symphonic form. Several sketched movements instead became part of the F minor Piano Sonata D.1048 (criticised by Schumann for taking almost an hour to play; Schubert obliged by making the metronome marks faster) and the A major String Quintet (with viola) D.1033. The Eleventh Symphony itself had a long germinating period for Schubert, following an intense study of Beethoven's late works as well as the contrapuntal techniques he'd already shown off to great effect in the Second Quintet. Notable features include the telescoping of sonata-allegro and adagio, where the first movement's introduction, after recurring in the development, returns as a full-scale slow movement during the 'recapitulation', and the massive finale (almost 1500 bars) that for the first time in a Schubert work achieves the weight necessary to balance the first movement, and whose stentorian brass chorales must have inspired Wagner and Bruckner among others.

Where is this alternate universe and how can I travel to it?

Offline Dax

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #15 on: August 13, 2015, 05:16:08 AM »
a few others I thought of (that I'd like to hear, anyway):

Jan Václav Voříšek - Symphony No. 3 in B-flat major, Op. 46
Possibly written as a musical response to the Great C Major Symphony of his friend Schubert (circulating widely in manuscript by 1838 if not yet performed), Voříšek's 3rd, with its increase in scale over the classically-paced Nos 1 and 2 and its daring, far-reaching harmonic scheme combined with Beethovenian forward drive, is nowadays often considered the first major work of one of the major composers of Czech Romanticism.

Nikolay Andreevich Roslavets - Symphony No. 4 (for 4 orchestras) in memory of the victims of the Great Patriotic War
When the infighting in the Union of Soviet Composers was definitively resolved by official intervention naming Roslavets's artistic innovations the true face of Soviet art and criticising lighter, more accessible music as influenced by capitalism and bourgeois tastes, Roslavets found the commissions rolling in faster than he could fulfill them, particularly as he was simultaneously engaged in developing a theory of 31-tone equal temperament along with his comrades Ivan Vishnegradsky and Nikolay Obukhov. His failure to develop some of these compositions fully is often considered a factor in his 1938 denunciation, which criticised his music for being imbued with Scriabinesque 'Europeanisms' and insulting the intelligence of Soviet audiences. This symphony was the first commission he received after rehabilitation as well as the first large-scale composition he had written in 31-TET, and thus had an extra importance. The sombre and elegiac tone of the work, combined with its effective antiphonal writing and extreme purity of harmony and line, remains striking to this day.

Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 11 in E-flat major, D.1117
Following his 9th (which stretched the classical form to its very limit) and the 10th (which broke the mold with its subversion of sonata form and hybrid finale), Schubert seemed at a loss as to where to go next in the symphonic form. Several sketched movements instead became part of the F minor Piano Sonata D.1048 (criticised by Schumann for taking almost an hour to play; Schubert obliged by making the metronome marks faster) and the A major String Quintet (with viola) D.1033. The Eleventh Symphony itself had a long germinating period for Schubert, following an intense study of Beethoven's late works as well as the contrapuntal techniques he'd already shown off to great effect in the Second Quintet. Notable features include the telescoping of sonata-allegro and adagio, where the first movement's introduction, after recurring in the development, returns as a full-scale slow movement during the 'recapitulation', and the massive finale (almost 1500 bars) that for the first time in a Schubert work achieves the weight necessary to balance the first movement, and whose stentorian brass chorales must have inspired Wagner and Bruckner among others.

Richard Wagner - Symphony No. 7 in A-flat major
When Wagner decided to turn to instrumental symphonies after the commercial failure of his first operas, he had already sketched the material for a large number of future operatic projects. Much of this ended up becoming the basis for his symphonic works, though only a few of them retained titles. This symphony, his last work in the genre, is based on material originally intended for an opera on the subject of Parsifal, although he eventually opted not to give it a title. One can sense a dramatic sweep in the seemingly endless development—not confined only to the 'development sections', as is usual in Wagner's work—and its avoidance of a traditional symphonic structure in favour of a large one-movement design possibly inspired by Liszt's Sonata in B minor. I don't know why I'm even talking about this at length though, you all know it, you're either complaining about how often conductors undertake Wagner cycles when there are so many other deserving composers, or endlessly comparing timings and arguing over whether Knappertsbusch or Barbirolli is preferable in the Walküre-Symphonie...

Jean Barraqué - Symphonie (dédié à la mémoire de Pierre Boulez)
If Barraqué's Piano Sonata is that of a serial Beethoven, his only symphony is more like that of a serial Wagner or even Mahler—searingly intense, visionary and all-embracing. It remains one of the best-known symphonic works to use electronics, as a fundamental part of the texture (like another instrument) similar to late Shostakovich rather than in opposition to acoustic sounds in the manner of Varèse. This work is generally credited with reviving the symphony for a brief vogue in avant-garde circles, although only Versuch über die Symphonie by Heinz Holliger really cries out for revival these days.

Love it! Especially the Roslavets.

Offline Christo

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #16 on: August 16, 2015, 09:56:03 AM »
Tournemire, Ninth Symphony (after the glorious Eight "Symphonie du triomphe de la Mort" od 1924 he lived another two decades but turned toward the oratorio and organ music).
Falla, Symphony in one movement - why not a symphony in the exuberant style of the Sombrero the tres picos; Turina did it, Falla could have done it.
Holst, [Second/Third] Symphony (at his death in 1934 only the Scherzo was finished, showing that Holst was finding a new style in the 1930s).
Holst, Second Choral Symphony (the first from 1924 is titled 'First Choral Symphony', so he had planned a second but never realized it).
Moeran, Second Symphony (Martin Yates finished the sketches, see the Dutton recording).


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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2015, 02:29:45 AM »
One certainly wonders what more these giants might have given the world.  How would Mahler react to the great war?  What if Sibelius had changed his mind, completing the 8th and more?  Beethoven, though...  His 9th was a pretty conclusive mic drop.   ;D


Such a terrible loss to English music, Butterworth one of the finest composers lost in the war.  In a similar vein I wonder if Gerald Finzi had lived long enough, would he master the larger forms and produce a symphony?  His final opus, the cello concerto, is often wonderful, but even a Finzi devotee must admit it showed he wasn't quite there yet.  Anachronistic as he was, and with his great friend Vaughan Williams' example (particularly the 5th), we may very well have seen a beautiful English symphony in the 1960s unlike anything of its time.  At least we know the lyrical slow movement would be strong!

Agree about Finzi. I wonder what Butterworth would have achieved - such a greats loss. I'd love to hear the Symphony by Finzi's friend Robin Milford, who also died comparatively young (suicide). It apparently exists and Vaughan Williams thought highly of it. Maybe Milford withdrew it. Still, we do have his eloquent Violin Concerto and beautiful 'The Darkling Thrush' (very much in the spirit of 'The Lark Ascending') recently released on Dutton.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Luke

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #18 on: August 27, 2015, 11:00:03 AM »
Agree about Finzi. I wonder what Butterworth would have achieved - such a greats loss. I'd love to hear the Symphony by Finzi's friend Robin Milford, who also died comparatively young (suicide). It apparently exists and Vaughan Williams thought highly of it. Maybe Milford withdrew it. Still, we do have his eloquent Violin Concerto and beautiful 'The Darkling Thrush' (very much in the spirit of 'The Lark Ascending') recently released on Dutton.

It definitely exists - there's a photo of the manuscript parts on this page http://www.robinmilfordtrust.org.uk/milfwork.htm


Offline Luke

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Re: Top 5 Imaginary Symphonies
« Reply #19 on: August 27, 2015, 11:05:16 AM »
[I know nothing about Milford, I'm just indulging in a bit of goggling...]


At first sight it appears you can hear it, too, on this page http://www.robinmilford.co.uk/musrm_orch.htm but I just followed the links and they go nowhere. Nevertheless, it suggests there's a recording somewhere out there, doesn't it?

Odd, though - that page distinguishes between his Symphony no 1 (date unknown) and his First Symphony op 34 from 1933. Any ideas on that?