Five Fifth Symphonies

Ariana Photo

For this week’s Five Things Friday, we are pleased to welcome Ariana Douglas! Ariana, a horn player, is a graduate student and freelance musician in Toronto. Thanks to Ariana for listing her five favorite fifth symphonies for us! 

NB: Recordings selected by the Brass Chicks team


5. Prokofiev Symphony No. 5

Prokofiev’s fifth is a whirlwind of lush and colourful sounds with many moments that are strange and even carnival-like. Sergei wove together many a good vibe in this one. Though the whole piece is worth hearing and a rollicking good time to perform, the finale is a banger for the ages.

4. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

Tchaikovsky in a HornAs a horn player I am legally required to adore Tchaik 5. The horn solo is the second movement is love and feared in equal measure by hornists everywhere, and is one of the most beautiful and emotionally moving solos in the orchestral repertoire. Throughout the work there are drama, beautiful melodies, and a lot of great writing for brass, with many a headbanging moment. On the whole, Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony is a beautiful work of art and performing it is a great experience.

3. Mahler Symphony No. 5

This is the only one on the list that I have yet to play, and I hope to rectify this ASAP as possible, as it is a magnificent work of art. As brass players we owe Mahler so much, both due to the top-tier quality of his writing and how often he expanded the number of players in the section. Mahler 5 has 6 horns (plus corno obligato), four trumpets, three trombones and tuba, giving woodwind and string players everywhere a good reason to invest in good earplugs lest the magnificence proves to be too much for their ears. Mahler 5 is one of the most recognizable Mahler works and the writing for brass is fantastic. The opening ??? LEGENDARY. The horn solos? Hell yeah. The fact that there are 5 movements? Iconic. Gustav brings the drama.

2. Beethoven Symphony No. 5

Possibly the most universally recognizable opening in the orchestral canon is the iconic theme of Beethoven’s 5th, which has been an absolute BANGER for over 200 years. Though Beethoven’s third is what changed the game of what a symphony was, I like to think that his 5th symphony is where he earned his place as the god of the symphony that we remember him as. First movement: drama, energy, angst. Second Movement: regal, beautiful, sweet. Third movement: Sick horn entrance, more drama, struggle between light and dark. Finale: GLORY, JOY, TIMPANI, TROMBONE, UNBRIDLED EXCITEMENT AND CELEBRATION. Beethoven 5 is truly iconic and a shining star of the Western classical canon.

1. Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Shostakovich 5 will always have a special (and angsty) place in my heart; it was this first symphony I ever performed and one of the reasons I have tinnitus. Are other 5th symphonies better written than Shosty 5? Maybe, but I am not qualified to make that distinction and I don’t really care. I am a simple woman, I like music that gets loud and dramatic and angry and has just a wall of brass and percussion at the end and Shostakovich delivers in this respect. Every movement (even the third movement in which dear Dmitri gifted us brass folks with a chance to rest our chops before the explosive finale) is a Jam with a capital J and I will fight anyone who disagrees.

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