The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Fifth Symphonies, like Ninths, can mark a turning point in a composer’s career and in the history of music. | August 23, 2012

ALERT and REMINDER: A new chamber group in the area, the Black Marigold wind quintet (below) performs its second feee concert tomorrow, on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, 333 W. Main St. For more  informaiton about the performers and the program, go to:

By Jacob Stockinger

Most classical music fans know about the so-called Curse of Beethoven’s Ninth, which seems to have intimidated many composers who cam later and kept them from completing more than nine symphonies. (A small number compared to Haydn’s 104 and Mozart’s 41, no?)

But Fifth Symphonies also mark a sea change in a composer’s career and inspire a certain kind of awe and legend, also going back to Beethoven (below).

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop (below), who has recorded for Naxos Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony with her new additional orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil. She discussed Fifth Symphonies with NPR’s Scott Simon.

It is an illuminating talk with great audio clips that help her explain the music. Here is a link:

Curiously, my favorite fifth symphony – after Beethoven’s Fifth, that is – was never even mentioned: Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, with its great final movement featuring brass and strings plus an unbeatably dramatic finale punctuated by silence (at bottom).

I also don’t recall hearing them talk about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, which is also a great one, though Shostakovich’s great Fifth Symphony gets a nod.

Do you have favorite Fifth Symphony?

Let The Ear know what it is.


  1. Thank you, Anders Yocom, for stating EXACTLY what I was about to do regarding Mahler’s 5th, including the reference to the very moving and poignant “Adagietto” that always brings tears to my eyes.

    Comment by Nina Sparks — August 26, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

  2. […] Classical music: Fifth Symphonies, like Ninths, can mark a turning point in a composer’s caree… ( […]

    Pingback by Iván Fischer | Seit über 10.000 Jahren Erfahrung in Versklavung — August 24, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  3. I agree that the Sibelius 5th is under appreciated, but I suppose its sparse landscapes can be an acquired taste. But I encourage people to give it a listen or more.

    As for other Symphonies No.5, Mahler is an amazing work, Prokofiev is exciting as well, and the Shostakovich (especially when the end of the final movement is taken at the composer’s originally requested slower tempo) is incredibly powerful. The Schubert is a charming work as well. I am also partial to the Mendelssohn “Reformation” Symphony, even though it is a No.5 in title only and not in his chronology (of course, Beethoven has that same issue). But 2 that nobody has yet mentioned are great favorites of mine: Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — August 23, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

  4. This week, I’ll put in a good word for Schubert’s Fifth, having just conducted it – a strikingly mature work, especially for a composer of 19. The Andante is gorgeous. Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Shostakovich are all personal favorites.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — August 23, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  5. Mahler”s No. 5, with the “Adagietto” love song to Alma, the wonderful 3rd movement Scherzo waltz with the horns and the frenzied finale.

    Comment by Anders Yocom — August 23, 2012 @ 6:48 am

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