10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 1

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony no. 3 ‘Eroica’, mvt. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven

The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk might have the greatest claim to the double whammy of being ahead of their time and shining a light on a future that in hindsight seemed inevitable. Fast forward 110 years from their famous jaunt through the not-exactly-skies-but certainly-off-the-ground and we now live in a world where passenger planes filled with beds, alcohol, and unceasing danger fly around the world at all times of every day and unmanned aircraft called, with menacing casualness, “drones,” may or may not blow people up on the ground below (spoiler alert: REDACTED). The notion of giant mechanical beasts roaming the blue yonder probably seemed like a novelty in the 1860’s, pretty far-fetched considering the circumstances at the turn of the century, and the perfect tool for man to rain holy fucking hell on his fellow man by the 1940’s. The Wright Brothers greatest invention was not so much technological as it was ideological.  Continue reading

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10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 2

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Symphony no. 9, mvt. 1 by Anton Bruckner

I probably don’t need to rehash this too much, considering I’ve written at relative length about Bruckner and this symphony a few times, including after my recent trip to Chicago. Suffice it to say, this is about the most earth-shattering music that exists anywhere and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be playing this through headphones on a pregnant woman’s stomach to every unborn child about to enter this world, just to give them something to look forward to…and to spiritually prepare them for the revolt against global capitalism or Satan’s armies, whichever comes first (unless they’re one and the same…OH SHIT!). Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 3

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Symphony no. 7 by Jean Sibelius

So this is definitely cheating, but whatever; the man himself only made it one movement, and that’s good enough for me. There are easily identifiable “movements” in Sibelius 7, but I guess they’re just sections or something so I’m sticking with this come hell or high water.  Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 4

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Symphony no 7, mvt. 1 by Gustav Mahler

How do you choose just one Mahler movement when literally 100% of them are the shit? I could have put the movements in a hat and just drawn one and went with it. And perhaps I’ll look back and regret not choosing the scherzo of the Fifth or the finale of the Ninth or Part 1 of the Eighth or the Adagio of the Fourth or…Jesus. So why the Seventh, arguably Mahler’s least understood and probably least popular completed symphony (see how those caveats allowed me to scrape by the Tenth and Das Lied? Smooth!)? Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 5

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Symphony no. 11 ‘The Year 1905’, mvt. 4 by Dmitri Shostakovich

This selection is as likely as any to generate Biblical wailing and gnashing of teeth. Shostakovich has so much brilliant music to choose from for a countdown like this, and you could even try and argue that this isn’t even the finest movement of the symphony it’s actually in. I’m not entirely convinced myself, especially if I were to put the opening movement on right at this moment. And above Brahms? My God, have I lost my mind?

And yet, I don’t know if there is a single more evocative 15 minutes or so in all of music history. THAT’S why it’s here.

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10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 6

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Symphony no. 3 ‘Liturgique’, mvt. 3 by Arthur Honegger

Setting aside the fact that I’m borderline obsessed with anything even remotely “dona nobis pacem” related at this time, the concluding movement to Honegger’s greatest symphony makes this list with ease. Composed in the wake of World War II, it’s a work of absolute savagery and cold brutality, which of course makes the tender episode that concludes the piece that much starker in its beauty. This symphony is woefully underrated, and in spite of its unrelenting intensity and brazen dissonances, I would think audiences today would eat this shit up as the visceral sonic journey that it is. Continue reading

10 Best: Symphony movements, no. 7

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Symphony no. 2, mvt. 4 by Johannes Brahms

It’s pretty obvious that Brahms was going to end up on here at some point. It’s also pretty obvious that choosing a single one of the sixteen symphonic movements that Brahms composed could essentially come down to a coin flip if you lived in a dimension with 16-sided coins. Brahms probably has the highest compositional “batting average” of anyone who ever lived and wrote music; pretty much every surviving work is a varying degree of great. The symphonies in particular are each among the very finest in the entire output, and not surprisingly they’re performed with Metamucil-like regularity. Continue reading