5 Symphonies You Should Know

Discover five popular and recognizable symphonies.

Ah, the humble symphony. Wait, what exactly is a symphony? In Western classical music, a symphony refers to a long musical composition for an orchestra that follows a specific structure. A symphony includes multiple sections, usually 4, called movements, and the first movement is almost always written in Sonata form. Now that we know what a symphony is, let’s look at some of the most popular symphonies in the orchestral repertoire. From heartwarming melodies to powerful crescendos, these symphonies are a gateway to the timeless magic of classical music. 


Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67

Like many of the symphonies on this list, you might have heard of this one before.  With its iconic four-note opening, ”da-da-da-dum,” Beethoven’s Fifth has become one of the most recognizable symphonies in the classical music repertoire. Beethoven skillfully manipulates the power of each instrument to create an unmistakable sense of struggle and triumph throughout the piece. The first performance in 1808 quite literally left audiences in awe. In fact, one of the most famous authors of the time, E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was easily “one of the most important works of the time.’’  

Where you might have heard it: 

Its powerful ‘’da-da-da-dum’’ motif makes Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 a perfect fit for movie soundtracks such as The Breakfast Club, Howards End, and most recently Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny

François-Xavier Roth conducts Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra.


Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

This was one of Mozart’s last, and most celebrated symphonies. Within just the first few bars the music instantly transports you to the bustling streets of Vienna. The symphony was composed in 1788, when Mozart was at the height of his creative powers, and has become a symbol of his extraordinary talent. Full of catchy melodies and a distinctive sense of grandeur only Mozart can pull off, this symphony has retained its massive popularity to this day. 

Where you might have heard it: 

If you were lucky enough to have a Nokia cell phone in the late 90s this was definitely your ringtone. This symphony is also frequently used in commercials, films, and television shows.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts Mozart’s Symphony No.40 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.


Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 

If you’re looking for a symphony that oozes romanticism, look no further than Tchaikovsky’s brilliant Symphony No.5. The symphony builds slowly with each movement, growing from a quiet opening to a great percussive finale, bursting with passionate melodies. The symphony first premiered in 1888 and was initially met with mixed reviews. In fact, after hearing a second performance Tchaikovsky himself said, “I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure”. However, it has since become one of his most beloved works, appreciated now for its profound emotional expression and clever use of motifs. 

Where you might have heard it: 

The emotional intensity and lush orchestration of this symphony have made it a favorite of choreographers, directors, and musicians alike.

Karina Canellakis conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. 


Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13

Everyone loves a good comeback story. Rachmaninoff’s first symphony premiered in 1897 and was a catastrophic failure thanks to a very drunk conductor. The experience sent the composer into a 3-year depression, and the symphony all but disappeared. It wasn’t until after Rachmaninoff’s death that the manuscript was discovered and the symphony was given a performance worthy of its genius. Today it’s considered one of the composer’s great symphonies, beloved not only for its triumphant redemption story but for the music itself. 

Where you may have heard it. 

Rachmaninoff himself quoted his First Symphony in one of his final, and most popular, compositions, Symphonic Dances. 

Enrique Mazzola conducts Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra


Elgar Symphony No. 2 in E♭ major, Op. 63

With an impressive 18-minute opening movement, Elgar’s second symphony is a true giant of the symphonic world. This grand symphony was dedicated to his late Majesty King Edward VII and premiered in London in 1911. It is said that Elgar composed the symphony by first writing the climax of each movement, and then carefully crafting a music that perfectly builds to his desired end. The result is a brilliant and heroic symphony full of majesty and excitement. At its core, this piece is a eulogy, but Elgar’s genius writing perfectly balances melancholy and happiness, melody and atonality, grand movements, and gentle interludes. It’s no wonder that Elgar viewed this piece as a ‘’passionate pilgrimage of the soul.’’

Where you might have heard it: 

Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 is a frequent flyer at the BBC PROMS appearing an impressive 37 times throughout the years.

John Wilson conducts Elgar’s Second Symphony with the Sinfonia of London.


These five symphonies encapsulate the beauty, complexity, and emotional resonance that define classical music. From Beethoven’s iconic opening to Elgar’s passionate eulogy, each symphony offers a rich tapestry of emotion and creativity. Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned enthusiast, we hope this list has inspired you. You can watch full concerts of these magnificent symphonies, and so many more, on-demand on Marquee TV. 


Discover your favorite Symphony

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