Symphonic rock


Symphonic rock is a sub-genre of progressive rock. Since early in progressive rock's history, the term has been used to distinguish more classically influenced progressive rock from the more psychedelic and experimental forms of progressive rock.

Symphonic rock can be described as combining of progressive rock with classical music traditions. Some artists perform rock arrangements of themes from classical music or compose original pieces in classical composition structures. Additionally, they may play with the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra or use a synthesizer or mellotron to emulate orchestral instruments.

As the term is used in music criticism (and this article), orchestral renditions of hit rock and pop songs do not necessarily qualify as symphonic rock, though various outlets sometimes market them using that term. Using an orchestra does not make a piece symphonic rock; it must meet the criteria for being progressive rock in addition to the qualities listed for being symphonic.


Classical devices often employed in symphonic rock include the following:

• Rock arrangements of themes from classical music
• Classical composition structures
• The accompaniment of a symphony orchestra
• Use of classical instruments, such as strings, harpsichord and woodwinds
• Higher complexity than other subgenres of rock and pop
• Elaborate compositions in the formats of concerti, suites, symphonies, tone poems and operas
• Prominent use of the synthesiser as a substitute for symphonic orchestration
• Frequent use of the mellotron or other tape based keyboards for the simulation of strings, choir and woodwinds.


As early as 1966, with Frank Zappa's Freak Out!, concept albums started appearing that tied all the songs on an album into a thematic whole. The Beatles followed with their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) incorporating significant orchestral passages and studio editing. In the same year, The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed merged rock playing with orchestral accompaniment. Procol Harum's 1968 album Shine On Brightly contained the epic length song "In Held Twas In I". These works and experiments led to what would become progressive rock, specifically symphonic prog in the United Kingdom.

The Moody Blues

The Moody Blues are an English rock band. Among their innovations was a fusion with classical music, most notably in their 1967 album Days of Future Passed. For many, the mellotron epitomized the The Moody Blues and their symphonic sound.

The Nice

Initially formed as a backup band for the jazz singer P. P. Arnold. The Nice went on the produce their first album The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (1967). It was the first attempt at art rock heavily influenced by psychedelic rock. The album Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968) contained rock versions of classical compositions such as the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius and The Brandenberg Concerto by J.S. Bach. It was their third album Nice (1969) where they charted a course for symphonic prog with its mix of psychedelic rock, jazz, blues and classical elements. They ended with Five Bridges (1970), a work commissioned by the Newcastle Arts Festival. The Five Bridges Suite contains five movements written by the band members instead of using existing classical works. The big criticism of the group was that they did not have a good lead singer. Keyboardist Keith Emerson went on to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

King Crimson

King Crimson released their landmark album In the Court of the Crimson King in 1969, bringing acclaim to progressive rock. Guitarist Robert Fripp enriched his melodic palette by reading Vincent Persichetti's Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. and used techniques of atonal harmony, such as whole tone scales. The 1974 song "Red" (1974) used an octatonic scale.


Renaissance were formed after the breakup of the Yardbirds. Their first album, Renaissance (1969) came out two months after In the Court of the Crimson King. The album saw them mixing classical, eastern, jazz and folk elements with rock. They became a recognised symphonic prog band when they reformed in 1971 with Annie Haslam as the vocalist for the album Prologue (1972). They peaked with their albums Ashes Are Burning (1973), Turn of the Cards (1974) and Scheherazade and Other Stories (1975).

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Emerson, Lake & Palmer kicked off '70s Symphonic Prog with their first album Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970). ELP performed classical compositions such as Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" on the album Pictures At An Exhibition (1971) and Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" on Works, Volume 1 (1977) with electric instrumentation.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer also composed suites that are considered classics of the genre. The 1971 song "Tarkus" uses quartal harmony. Other songs include "The Endless Enigma" on the album Trilogy (1972) and "Karn Evil 9" on the album Brain Salad Surgery (1973).


Genesis emerged in the '70s as a symphonic prog band with their second album Trespass (1970). The high point of their symphonic prog output was Foxtrot (1972), which contains their only long suite "Supper's Ready" written as a variation of sonata form, and Selling England by the Pound (1973). After Peter Gabriel left the group following the tour for the concept album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974), they continued in the Symphonic Prog vein until 1976's Wind & Wuthering with Phil Collins as the lead singer. After Steve Hackett left the group in 1977, they became a crossover, arena rock band. Hackett, prior to leaving Genesis, released his own symphonic prog album Voyage of the Acolyte (1975).

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd are usually not included in the symphonic rock genre because they are considered by critics not to be "orchestral" enough in sound. However, their 1970 album Atom Heart Mother contains the "Atom Heart Mother" suite with extensive orchestra use. By Meddle (1971), specifically the suite "Echoes", they moved in the direction of symphonic prog rather than psychedelic rock. With albums such as Wish You Were Here (1975), an ode to former band member Syd Barrett and screed against the music business and Animals (1977), a concept album based on Animal Farm by George Orwell, they were firmly in the realm of symphonic prog.

However, concerning Pink Floyd, the term 'symphonic rock' can quite literally be attributed to "The Trial" off The Wall. It is set up in the manner of a Broadway-esque musical number, complete with string and brass ensembles, and is only topped by David Gilmour's guitar riff.


Yes, starting with their third album The Yes Album (1971), produced a highly successful blend of classical, psychedelic and progressive ensemble rock. Their approach was similar to classical music; each instrument played its own melodic line to generate a grand musical theme. The vocals in some songs (ex. "Yours Is No Disgrace") were treated as just another instrument in the composition. They were also writing multi-part suites such as "Starship Trooper" on The Yes Album (1971), "Heart of the Sunrise" on Fragile (1971), "Close To the Edge" on Close to the Edge (1972) and "Awaken" on Going For The One (1977). What the mainstream rock press perceived as the excess of Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973) marked the start of the backlash against Prog music.


Dutch band Focus, containing Thijs van Leer and Jan Akkerman, began to assert symphonic prog with their second album Focus II (Moving Waves) (1971) despite their hit song "Hocus Pocus" (which is noted for lead singer Thijs van Leer's yodeling). This album brought them worldwide acclaim. After their next two albums Focus III (1972) and Hamburger Concerto (1974), they fell away from symphonic prog.

Rick Wakeman

Rick Wakeman was an on again-off again, keyboard virtuoso for Yes who also produced several solo symphonic prog concept albums. The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973) consisted exclusively of Rick and all his synthesisers. Journey To the Centre of the Earth (1974) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975) made use of symphony orchestras and choirs along with his band. The following year No Earthly Connection (1976) had him pare down the production to just using his band, the "English Rock Ensemble".


Camel, consisting of Andrew Latimer and former Them keyboardist Peter Bardens, included elements from Canterbury and space rock into their brand of symphonic prog starting with Camel (1973). They moved firmly into symphonic prog with their next album Mirage (1974) and their 1975 concept album The Snow Goose. Unfortunately, they did not have a recognisable lead singer like Yes, ELP or Genesis (The Snow Goose was entirely instrumental) which limited their success. After Moonmadness (1976), they too moved into more mainstream territory.

Electric Light Orchestra

Others such as Electric Light Orchestra played rock music with orchestral arrangements and/or orchestra backing. They also released their own concept album with 1974's Eldorado. But starting with 1975's Face the Music they favoured more of a pop rock style.

North American Bands

Once these groups became popular in the United States and Canada, bands such as Kansas, Rush and Todd Rundgren's Utopia appeared in the mid '70s. These bands tended to have more of a hard rock edge than the European bands mentioned above. French-Canadian band Harmonium had a short career in the mid '70s during which their most notable release was Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison (If We Needed A Fifth Season) (1975).


Italy's symphonic rock boomed in 1972, after the successes of New Trolls' Concerto Grosso, No. 2 and Van der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts. The most popular bands, such as Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Premiata Forneria Marconi and Le Orme, played symphonic prog heavily influenced by classical music, against the backdrop of the Italian canzone tradition. Bands like New Trolls, Osanna, Metamorfosi, Alphataurus, Semiramis and Biglietto per l'Inferno had a harder edge, but still with traits of the symphonic tradition.


Bands in France arose in the mid to late '70s influenced by both King Crimson and Genesis. Ange, influenced also by French folk music, released Le Cimetière des Arlequins (1973) and Au-delà du Délire (1974). Atoll, incorporating the influences of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, released L'Araignée-Mal (1975). Pulsar, heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, released The Strands of the Future (1976) and Halloween (1977). Mona Lisa, noted for being very theatrical, released Avant Qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard (1978).


Amidst the Krautrock bands, there were several symphonic prog bands that gained recognition. Triumvirat, best described as an ELP clone, released Illusions on a Double Dimple (1973), Spartacus (1975) and Old Loves Die Hard (1976). Grobschnitt were known not only for their symphonic passages, suites and synthesiers, but also for the absurd humour and strange noises in their work, as heard on Ballerman (1974) and Rockpommel's Land (1977). Both use English vocals. Anyone's Daughter started up just as Prog was ebbing in America and Britain. They had a string of symphonic prog albums with Adonis (1979), Anyone's Daughter (1980), Piktors Verwandlungen (1981) and In Blau (1982). With the latter two albums, the band sung the lyrics in their native German. Novalis, noted for a heavy organ sound with comparisons to King Crimson and Pink Floyd, released Novalis (1975) and Summerabend (1976). Eloy, a progressive rock band formed by guitarist Frank Bornemann in 1969, had a distinctly symphonic sound in the second part of the '70s when Jurgen Rosenthal and Detlev Schmidtchen were part of the group (which also included Klaus-Peter Matziol). The album "Dawn" includes "Symphonic Orchestra arranged and conducted by Wolfgang Maus." These four artists (ELOY from 1976 to 1979) also produced the albums "Ocean", "Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes", and "Eloy Live".


During the 1970s, a large number of Yugoslav progressive rock bands experimented with symphonic sound. In 1973, progressive rock band Korni Grupa, under the name Kornelyans, released the symphonic rock album Not an Ordinary Life. The self-titled debut album (1975) by the progressive rock band Smak was heavily influenced by symphonic rock. The symphonic rock band Opus released only one album, Opus 1 (1975), featuring Dušan Prelevic' on vocals, before disbanding. In 1978, keyboardist Laza Ristovski and drummer Ipe Ivandic', both members of the hard rock band Bijelo Dugme, released the symphonic rock-oriented album Stižemo. In 1979, Bijelo Dugme released symphonic-influenced album Bitanga i princeza, and during the same year, their frontman Željko Bebek released his first solo album, symphonic-oriented Skoro da smo isti. The band Tako combined symphonic and jazz rock, and released two albums, Tako (1978) and U vrec'i za spavanje (1980). Initial works by the band Galija, the albums Prva plovidba (1979) and Ipak verujem u sebe (1982), were strongly influenced by symphonic rock.


Bands in Japan arose in the early 1980s, many of them influenced by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes and Genesis. Representative bands include Teru's Symphonia, Pagent, Midas, Mugen, Gerard, Outer Limits, MALICE MIZER, Mr. Sirius, Shingetsu, Versailles and Asturias.

End of the "classic" period

By the late 1970s the "classic" period of symphonic rock was coming to an end. The backlash against any "prog" by the mainstream rock press was in full force. Disco and punk rock emerged as the primary forms of music. For a long time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame declined to induct any "prog" bands. Pink Floyd were finally inducted in 1996 and were the only "prog" band of any kind in the Hall. It was then announced in December 2009 that Genesis will be inducted into the hall. Speculation is that this induction will open the floodgates for the other overlooked "prog" bands.

1980s neo-progressive era

In the 1980s, the neo-progressive rock bands, such as Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Solstice, Twelfth Night and Pendragon, continued the traditions of 1970s' symphonic prog, but without the complexity. The main influences on the neo-prog genre are Genesis, Yes, Camel, and Pink Floyd.


While the 1980s saw neo-prog keeping a glimmer alive in the U.K. and U.S., symphonic prog was reaching other countries around the world. Asia Minor from Turkey released Between Flesh and Devine (1981), Bacamarte from Brazil released Depois Do Fim (1983) and Hungarian band Solaris released Marsbéli Krónikák (Martian Chronicles) (1984). Only Solaris survived into the '90s releasing Nostradamus Book of Prophecies in 1999. The early 1990s saw groups like After Crying from Hungary release Overground Music (1990), Quaterna Requiem from Brazil release Velha Gravura (1990), Änglagård from Sweden release Hybris (1992) and Isildurs Bane, also from Sweden, release The Voyage - A Trip To Elsewhere (1992). The last two paved the way for a symphonic prog movement in Sweden.


Interest in symphonic prog flowered again in the U.S. and UK starting with Echolyn's eponymous first album in 1991. This marked a resurgence to a degree in the 1990s and 2000s with bands such as Muse, The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, Karmakanic, Nexus, Pär Lindh Project, Arena, Glass Hammer, and many others.

(from the article Symphonic rock of Wikipedia)

Selected examples

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