Famous 19th Century Symphonies
Drawing Sketch of Beethoven
Franz Joseph Haydn is said to have been "The Father of the Symphony." Might have been etymology, since all he did was at one point in his life started calling "Orchestral Suites," "Symphonies." I just wrote an article about philology and the meaning of words, cultures, and how languages and meanings have changed over thousands of years.... The word "Symphony" is said to have first appeared in "The Gospel of Matthew" and implies unity and togetherness in the Greek Language. Which brings me to a poignant point: a piano solo composition can never be a 'symphony', because there's only one player. A solo piano composition or a composition for -- say -- solo piano and solo violin would then be called, "Sonata," derivative from the Latin word "Sound." However, one can play symphonies on the piano, but it'd then be a transcription of the perspective work in question. So, conclusion, 'symphonies' (together -- implying more than one...) are orchestral compositions, not solo piano compositions. Last, Haydn's London Symphonies are pretty well executed and influenced most, if not all of the composers in the 19th century.
Side note: a 'sinfonia' (symphony) is a work for multiple voices. 'Multiple voices', is a synonym for 'symphony' -- again -- implicates more than one performer, or in this case, more than one voice (polyphony). However, not a 'symphony'.
Beethoven's 9th Symphony
Beethoven, Haydn's most brilliant student (some would argue most brilliant musician of all times. A subjective statement which I happen to agreed with...), was a bit hubris, even if most would say there have been none like Beethoven before or after. Beethoven had mixed feelings about Haydn; he'd praise him on one hand and belittle him with the other. All said, it's safe to say that Beethoven's 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 8th Symphonies are for the most part parodies of Haydn's music -- even if really good music at that. Beethoven's 4th Symphony has much in common with Haydn's style of writing music, be it with excessively silly overtones. Nonetheless, Beethoven put his soul into every work he composed. What would Romanticism in Literature and Music have been without Lord Byron and Beethoven? It's a good thing we never found out. Haydn's Symphony No. 99 (my favorite...), has a lot in common with Beethoven's 4th and 8th Symphonies. Some have been bold enough to call Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the greatest musical composition of all times. Period. The work is phenomenal by any stretch of the imagination. It's in 4 Movements. Each of them embodying musical passion like never expressed before. The power of the work is exhilarating. Perhaps this is why Bernard Shaw referred to Beethoven as a mad god genius with uncontrollable emotions. This symphony is the quintessential symphony of all times. Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and others came musically close to Beethoven, but some would debate not close enough. All said, Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th Symphonies are groundbreaking, exceptionally well written and arguably above intellectually to His 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th Symphonies, but most scholars would agreed they all fall short to his 9th.
BB and AB -- Before Brahms and After Brahms
After Beethoven, many composers wrote symphonies. However, there were exceptional geniuses like Chopin, for whom the piano meant everything. Chopin didn't write symphonies; and, he pretty much shunned anything that wasn't piano music. Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann all wrote symphonies. One exceptional work from this period is Berlioz' 'Symphonie Fantastique' aka 'Fantastic Symphony' and 'fantastic' it is. Berlioz was the father of program music, i.e., music which follows a story or related to narrative. In this 5 Movement work, Berlioz not only goes on a date, dances with her, goes on a picnic, kills her, gets his head cut for doing the crime, and then ends up being tortured by her in hell for eternity. -- Boy, these 'romantics' were something else!... A poignant point: Schubert's 'Unfinished Symphony' wasn't 'unfinished' because he died; Schubert's 'Unfinished Symphony' wasn't finished because he didn't feel like finishing it. Period. Like Berlioz, Schubert was brilliant; and, like Berlioz, Schubert was one of the greatest talents of the 19th century. Brahms was very industrious, focused and nitpicking. Which may explain why it took him almost 20 years to finally complete his 1st Symphony. All said, some have called it one of the greatest ever written after Beethoven's 9th. And, ironically enough, Brahms parodies Beethoven, just as Beethoven had parodied Haydn in some of his symphonies approx. 80 years prior.
Brahms' 1st Symphony
Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Franck, and Mahler
Franck only wrote one Symphony, though it's exceptional, and that's an understatement. The writer Marcel Proust, felt Franck to be one of those rare genius birds which no one understands. Franck was not acknowledged during his lifetime. He lived to be almost 70 years old, and only a few months before he died did anyone ever have a kind word to say about his music. Like Brahms, Tchaikovsky was very industrious. And, just like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky improved after each one of his Symphonies, culminating with his 6th Symphony, which is not only his greatest Symphony, but his greatest work. Dvorak was arguably the greatest lyricist of the 19th century (only Chopin and Mendelssohn can stake a claim to my subjective proposition). Just like Beethoven, Dvorak wrote 9 Symphonies. Mahler was grandiose and all of his symphonies attest to this. He was the last of the Romantics and his music has traits of both romanticism and modernism. Mahler, like Beethoven, wrote 9 Symphonies; and, just like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, Mahler also died in his 50's.
Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony
Dvorak's 9th Symphony
Franck's Symphony in D Minor
Mahler's 1st Symphony aka "Titan"
The symphony is to classical music what the novel is to literature. Both very complex, involved and time consuming. However, these aforementioned composers were all very devoted to their art, and each composed monumental symphonies which have endured until the present day. These great works of musical art are still regularly performed worldwide.