Listening to music as a means of relaxation or reflection can be inspiring and cathartic. During a strenuous period or when overcoming a daunting challenge, it is refreshing to listen to music that celebrates courage and strength. Sometimes, during especially difficult times, it is helpful to listen to music that will give you the boost you need to triumph.
Of course, there’s a difference between strength and triumph. Strength is an attribute or characteristic. Triumph implies a struggle, whether against an opposing force or against oneself—a struggle from which one emerges victorious.
I selected the following pieces of music because they paint in sound this process of struggle and eventual triumph. And it’s no coincidence that each piece below is a symphony. Symphonies, being large-scale, multi-movement works, are uniquely suited to depict triumph over hardship, victory of good over evil, and the indomitability of the human spirit.
Symphony no. 5 in c minor, op. 67, by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven’s music is often described as brooding and melodramatic. This is likely due to two factors: First, a number of his most recognizable pieces (his Piano Sonata no. 14 and Symphony no. 5, for example) start out dark and dreary. Second, Beethoven reputedly was, at times, an unpleasant man.
This was largely due to the fact that between 1796 and 1824 he struggled with the gradual loss of his hearing.1 . . .
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1. Robert Greenberg, The Symphonies of Beethoven (Chantilly: Audible, 2013).
2. Ludwig van Beethoven, Beethoven’s Letters 1790–1826, translated by Grace Wallace (New York: C. H. Ditson, 1866).
3. Anton Schindler, Beethoven as I Knew Him: A Biography, translated by Constance S. Jolly (London: Faber and Faber, 1966).
4. Lewis Lockwood, Beethoven: The Music and the Life (New York: Norton, 2003), 224.
5. Robert Greenberg, Great Masters: Mahler—His Life and Music (Chantilly: Audible, 2013).
6. Greenberg, Great Masters: Mahler.
7. “The Symphony’s Beginnings as Programme Music,” http://gustavmahler.com/symphonies/No1/Symphonys-Beginnings-As-Programmatic-Music.html (accessed October 2, 2020).
8. Phillip Huscher, “Civic Orchestra of Chicago Season 2017–2018 Program Notes” (Chicago: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 2017).
9. David Dubal, The Essential Canon of Classical Music (New York: North Point Press, 2003), 337.
10. Tom Service, “Symphony Guide: Saint-Saëns’s Third (the Organ Symphony),” The Guardian, February 25, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/feb/25/symphony-guide-saint-saens-organ-tom-service.
11. Stephen Peithman, “The Dies Irae Connection,” CapRadio, October 29, 2016, https://www.capradio.org/classical/connections/2016/10/29/connections-102916/.