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Beethoven's Eroica voted greatest symphony

of all time
German and Austrian composers occupy eight of top 10 places in survey of leading conductors by BBC
Music magazine

Mark Brown Arts correspondent


Thursday 4 August 2016 16.25BST

Beethovens thrilling, electrifying Eroica, a piece of music originally dedicated to Napoleon


and celebrating the revolutionary spirit sweeping Europe, has been named the greatest
symphony of all time by the worlds greatest conductors.

BBC Music Magazine surveyed 151 conductors working across the world to come up with a top
20 great symphonies.

The Eroica, Beethovens Third Symphony, came in at No 1, followed by his Ninth, the
Choral, in second place. Mozarts last symphony, No 41, the Jupiter, was in third place
while Mahler occupied the next two places with his Ninth and Second symphonies
respectively.

Surprisingly, Beethovens Fifth, with its instantly recognisable duh-duh-duh-duuuh opening,


missed out on a top 10 spot, coming in 11th place.

Oliver Condy, editor of the magazine, admitted it was no great surprise Beethoven dominated
the list. It has been over 200 years since Beethovens symphony number three was written
and the vote suggests that it has not been improved on in those years, which is remarkable
really and is testament to his absolute genius.

Conductors love conducting it. They love it because there is just so much to it, there is so
much happening ... that opening is a real punch in the face.

The British conductor Jonathan Nott, music director of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, told
the magazine the Eroica was boundary-breaking. This symphony is not about the glory of
God, its about humans our struggles, challenges and victories.

Later, composers became preoccupied with lifes depressions and bitterness, but I never get
that in Beethoven. You come away having experienced the power and joy of being alive.

The Eroica, written in 1803, was originally destined to be called the Bonaparte, a celebration of
Napoleon and all he stood for. Beethoven changed his mind when he heard that Napoleon had
declared himself emperor, denouncing him as a tyrant and scrubbing out his name so hard
there is a hole in the manuscript.

The Third heralded a new era for the symphony, said Han-Na Chang, chief conductor of the
Trondheim Symphony. He finds his voice and we see who he is.

The way he works out all the motifs, melodies and themes in such detail, while at the same
time maintaining a completely organic development of the emotional message, seems to me
unbeatable.

Condy said he would have predicted that the Ninth, which contains the European Union
anthem, Ode to Joy, would have been at No 1. There is this real joyful sense of brotherhood
and unity, which is interesting of course in these Brexit times.

Mahler is represented three times with his Second, Third and Ninth Symphonies; the Ninth has
a beautifully slow final movement.

In third place is Mozarts last symphony, No 41, while his arguably more popular 40th is at No
15.

Im not sure why the conductors dont find it as alluring, said Condy. But dont forget we
are talking about people who know the symphonies inside out, they really get inside the
works, the structure, the textures and orchestrations.

The top 10 is completed by Brahmss Fourth Symphony (6th); Berliozs Symphonie


Fantastique (7th); Brahmss First Symphony (8th); Tchaikovskys Sixth Symphony (9th ); and
Mahlers Third Symphony (10).

The most recent work on the list is Shostakovichs Symphony No 5, ranked at 17. It was
written in 1937, a time of great personal crisis for the composer after the state denunciation
for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

The absence of more recently written symphonies is down to fashion, said Condy. Composers
dont tend to write symphonies these days, they are mostly shorter orchestral pieces with
titles.

Each conductor was asked to name his or her top three symphonies in any order before the
magazine processed that into a top 20. Among the conductors polled was Simon Rattle
(Beethovens Third, Bruckners Eighth, Mahlers Das Lied von der Erde), Marin Alsop (Barbers
First, Brahmss Third, Mahlers Second), who last year conducted Last Night of the Proms, and
Sakari Oramo (Beethovens Third, Mahlers Third, Sibeliuss Fifth), who will do so this year.

The BBC Music Magazine top 10


1. Beethoven Symphony No 3 (1803)
2. Beethoven Symphony No 9 (1824)
3. Mozart Symphony No 41 (1788)
4. Mahler Symphony No 9 (1909)
5. Mahler Symphony No 2 (1894 rev 1903)
6. Brahms Symphony No 4 (1885)
7. Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (1830)
8. Brahms Symphony No 1 (1876)
9. Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6 (1893)
10. Mahler Symphony No 3 (1896)

The top 20 is in the September issue of BBC Music Magazine.

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Classical music Ludwig van Beethoven
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