The Fine Print

Detailed introduction and criteria for the Work-lists of 19th-century Symphonists by David Bratman.

140 composers
This selection of composers is not intended to be either complete or definitive. The filter was set to go far beyond the "fifty top warhorses" level without attempting anything like a comprehensive list of all symphonies ever written in its time period. The specific names are those of the 19th-century composers whose works are discussed in a large set of recent listener guides and textbooks on the history of the symphony, supplemented from my own collection of recordings. The sources for names include:

Most of these works, and most of the source works below, focus on multiple individual symphonists as examples, rather than the symphony as an archetype. Of these, Layton covers the most composers in the greatest context, while Simpson is the fullest on the oeuvres of a variety of masters, and Steinberg has the most readable and useful descriptions of individual works. Cuyler and Stedman focus on technical analysis of individual works in the evolving historical context. For the broad history of the symphony as a genre in the 19th century, its place in musical life and its rises and falls in popularity, I recommend David Wyn Jones, The Symphony in Beethoven's Vienna (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), and Carl Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

The working definition includes all works for instrumental ensemble (with or without voices), however small or irregularly constituted, that the composer titled Symphony or its equivalent in other languages (e.g. sinfonia, Symphonie), even if omitted from the composer's numbered canon. This includes chamber symphonies, toy symphonies, and works by composers (notably Liszt and the Americans Heinrich and Fry) who applied the term loosely to works we would now call tone poems, often of multiple movements.

This definition generally excludes:

  1. symphonies for single instrument (usually organ) or unaccompanied voices, which lack the essential quality of instrumental ensemble;
  2. hybrid and derived genres, such as sinfoniettas, symphonies concertante, symphony-concertos, symphony-cantatas, unless the composer also designated the work as a symphony, but including as a special case the ode-symphonies of Félicien David;
  3. works using the term symphony in the older sense of "sounding together," such as the "Battle Symphony" of Beethoven's Wellington's Victory, or (from the 20th century) Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments.
Works commonly referred to by commentators and in work lists as symphonies, but which were not so called by the composer, are dealt with on an individual basis.

Incomplete or unfinished works that have been edited to a performable state are always included. Other sketched, fragmentary, or lost works are generally included if substantial and if their identities are clear. Exceptions to this rule are noted. Mere tentative sketches that amount to little, and planned works that never reached paper, are omitted, even if listed in catalogs. Works of uncertain attribution are included with a note, but spurious works are omitted.

There is no single definitive work-list source covering a variety of composers. The encyclopedia or history that is full and reliable on one composer is scanty or inaccurate on the next. For each composer on this list, I consulted as many available printed catalogs, monographs, and other scholarly sources, and appropriate reference tools, including national dictionaries and the general encyclopedias MGG and Grove (cited below), as I could get. Generally a single most authoritative source - a definitive catalog of the composer's work if available, or otherwise a detailed list in an encyclopedia or history - stood out, and is given first in the source note. Other sources provided additional data or corrections to the principal source. Frequently-used sources (cited in abbreviated form in the work-lists) are:

Recording liner notes, scores, and online library catalogs have also been used in specific difficult cases. Other online sources for long-deceased composers, even those emanating from societies devoted to individuals, are generally either duplicative of print sources or not reliable, and have not been used unless other sources are lacking or proved not useful. A few notably valuable online sources are linked to.

Nationality or nationalities generally attributed to composers, using current terminology. Generally includes countries of birth, and other countries where they settled permanently and took on the local nationality. Belgians who moved to France and Germans who moved to Austria are listed under both nationalities, but Czechs who lived in Vienna in the days of the Austrian Empire are generally considered to have remained Czech unless they went completely native.

Formatting and language
Data has generally been normalized into a consistent format. Genres and titles of works are given in English unless a translation from the original seemed inappropriate. The Italian term sinfonia is retained for works by Italian opera composers which more closely resemble opera overtures than traditional symphonies.

Works are listed in chronological order of composition when this is known. Works of completely unknown date are placed at the end of the composer's list. In some cases where chronology is fuzzy, serial numbering or opus numbers are allowed to take precedence. Non-standard serial numbers are given in brackets.

Major keys are given in capital letters and minor keys in lower-case, with # standing for sharp and lower-case b for flat. Thus, Bb = B-flat Major; b = B Minor; bb = B-flat Minor. Key identification is that generally associated with the work, and is given in brackets if the work's key is not generally cited in listings. Enhanced key identifications for the "progressive tonality" works of Nielsen and Mahler are also given in brackets.

Opus and catalog numbers
Opus numbers are always given, except for a few inconsistent and duplicative, and thus useless, numbers assigned by publishers to some early works. Other catalog numbers are included if generally used or otherwise seem useful in identification.

Instrumentation and arrangements
The default is a symphony orchestra of strings and winds, with or without brass and/or percussion. Other orchestrations are noted, as is the presence of solo vocal or choral parts, or the extremely prominent (a la a concerto) presence of a solo instrument. Published or surviving arrangements are noted if the work is otherwise lost or withdrawn.

Of all data about compositions, dates are the most likely to vary among sources, and varying dates are not always given. Dates listed are those of composition whenever available. Dates of publication or of first performance, given as alternatives, are identified as such except in some 18th-century cases where it should be obvious that date or approximate date of publication is meant. Composition dates given as ranges generally start with the year in which intensive work on the symphony began. Some catalogs identify scraps or sketches for a composition written many years before the bulk of activity, but unless this work was quite extensive, such dates have been omitted.

Return to David Bratman's symphonies page.
Last Updated: Nov. 21, 2011
Copyright 2009-2011, David Bratman