• Ian Passmore

Passmore's Picks: Top ten symphonies that you’ve NEVER heard, Nos. 9 & 10

I hope you all enjoyed a safe and restful Fourth of July weekend…and, of course, listened to some great music :) Welcome to the grand finale of our symphonic journey; we’ve arrived at symphonies 9 and 10! Fittingly, I’ve chosen to end this series with two respective works from two of my favorite areas of the repertoire — one by an American composer, and the other by a Russian composer.

The so-called “curse of the Ninth” (Google it) loomed over post-Beethoven composers all the way into the late 20th century. Such was the case with Vincent Persichetti…. His Ninth and final symphony, composed in 1969, is arguably his darkest work. Subtitled “Janiculum,” Persichetti’s Ninth was commissioned in memory of Alexander Hilsberg, a longtime member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Janiculum is a famous hill in western Rome, and is thought to be the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion. Persichetti composed most of the piece while in residence at the American Academy in Rome, as part of his second Guggenheim Fellowship. The performance features the group for whom it was written — the Philadelphia Orchestra and their longtime Music Director Eugene Ormandy.

Our final symphony was composed by Nikolai Myaskovsky. Although his name is probably unfamiliar to you, Myaskovsky was one of the most prolific symphonic composers of the 20th century. He wrote 27 of them, earning five Stalin Prizes — the most awarded to any composer — and the title, “Father of the Soviet Symphony.” His Tenth, like Persichetti’s Ninth, is a generally dark work. (I swear I didn’t plan that!) There is a great program note in the YouTube description, so I won’t try to better it here. However, since the symphony was inspired by Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Bronze Horseman,” I will provide a link to that text here: Bronze Horseman text. Myaskovsky’s Tenth Symphony was composed alongside his Ninth and was completed in 1927. The performance features the Vienna Radio Symphony, conducted by Gottfried Rabl.

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