Everyone and their cat knows about the stigma behind a composer’s 9th Symphony. It should be one of the composer’s crowning achievements , long, and really powerful and deep. Of course it started with that guy: Ol’ Ludwig. But really though; think about the number of composers who have left this world with only 9 symphonies. It’s almost as bad as the number of rock stars who died at 27. Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler, Vaughan-Williams, Malcolm Arnold, and Peter Mennin, among others. (One of my favorite composers, David Maslanka, is still living and has finished 9 symphonies. I’m hoping for more)
But in reality, several of the above mentioned guys actually didn’t write 9 symphonies. Schubert really only wrote 7 (The 7th is lost, and 8 is, as it’s name suggests, unfinished), Bruckner never finished number 9 (Although he came close), Mahler wrote 10 (counting Das Lied, maybe 11 if you count the completed version of 10). It doesn’t actually matter how many they wrote; all that matters is that they have a symphony that is numbered as their 9th.
What about Haydn and Mozart you ask? I answer, they don’t count because they came before Beethoven (Honestly, I’ve never heard Mozart’s or Haydn’s symphony 9, but then again, who has?). What about people like Milhaud, Shostakovich, and Hovhaness? Okay, you got me there. They came after Beethoven, so I guess their like rock stars who made it past 27. Shostakovich’s 9th is interesting in the fact that it goes against everything a 9th symphony should be: It’s one of his shortest, and his least serious. Also consider the fact Soviet officials were expecting a grand work with chorus. Oops. Hovhaness also is interesting in the fact that he didn’t care about what came before him, so the 9th had no real stigma to him. Milhaud just cranked out scores, so numbers didn’t matter to him.
Moral to the story: If you get to write 9 symphonies, make sure no. 9 is a big deal. A lot of people didn’t make it (Sibelius, Nielsen, Brahms, Schumann). So where you get there, live it up!