Symphony No. 8 (Dvořák)
|Symphony No. 8|
|by Antonín Dvořák|
Title page of the autograph score
|Composed||26 August 1889 – 8 November 1889: Vysoká u Příbramě|
|Dedication||Bohemian Academy of Science, Literature and Arts|
|Date||2 February 1890|
|Performers||Orchestra of the National Theatre|
The Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, B. 163, is a symphony by Antonín Dvořák, composed in 1889 at Vysoká u Příbramě, Bohemia, on the occasion of his election to the Bohemian Academy of Science, Literature and Arts. Dvořák conducted the premiere in Prague on 2 February 1890. In contrast to other symphonies of both the composer and the period, the music is cheerful and optimistic.
Dvořák composed and orchestrated the symphony within the two-and-a-half-month period from 26 August to 8 November 1889 at his summer resort in Vysoká u Příbramě, Bohemia. The score was composed on the occasion of his admission to Prague Academy and dedicated "To the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election." Dvořák conducted the premiere in Prague on 2 February 1890.
Dvořák tried to achieve a marked difference to his Symphony No. 7, a stormy romantic work: "different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way". The Eighth is cheery and lyrical and draws its inspiration more from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved.
The Eighth Symphony is performed fairly frequently, but not nearly as often as the more famous Ninth Symphony ("From the New World"). In this regard it enjoys a similar status to the Seventh Symphony.
Structure and scoring
The symphony is in four movements:
- Allegro con brio (G minor – G major)
- Adagio (E-flat major – C minor – C major)
- Allegretto grazioso – Molto vivace (G minor, ending in G major)
- Allegro ma non troppo (G major)
The orchestration of piccolo and English Horn is unusual in this symphony. The piccolo only sustains a long note in unison with the flute at the exposition of the 1st movement and the English Horn only plays a short, but exposed phrase during the second recapitulation of the main "bird call" theme, also in the 1st movement. In some editions the 2nd oboe doubles on English horn rather than the 1st oboe as indicated in most scores.
A typical performance of the Eighth lasts about 36 minutes, making it one of Dvořák's shorter symphonies.
Dvořák kept the typical format of a symphony in four movements, but structured them in an unusual way. All movements show a remarkable variety of themes, many of them based on Bohemian material. Occasionally the development of the themes seems like improvisation.
The first movement is a powerful and glowing exposition characterized by liberal use of timpani. It opens with a lyrical G minor theme in the cellos, horns, clarinets and bassoon with trombones, violas and double basses pizzicato. This gives way to a "bird call" flute melody, reaching the symphony's key G major. Writing about a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra, Peter Laki notes that the development section "works up quite a storm." In the recapitulation, the second main theme is played by the English horn, two octaves lower than in the exposition. The movement ends with a "short but very energetic coda".
Despite being marked Adagio, the second movement moves along at quite a reasonable speed. It begins with a typically beautiful clarinet duet and ends quietly, but contentedly. Similar to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, the music is inspired by the tranquil landscapes, depicting a summer's day, interrupted by a thunderstorm.
Most of the third movement is a melancholy waltz in 3/8 time. Near the end, the meter changes to 2/4, and the music ends in a manner not unlike that of the second movement. It is interesting to notice that the first notes of the Trio section (G major) are used in the Coda in 2/4. The movement is not the typical minuet or scherzo, but compares as an "intermezzo" to the third movements of the First and Second Symphony by Brahms. In contrast to the "sweet and languid waltz" of the first theme, the second, "functioning as a "trio," sounds more like a Bohemian folk dance".
The finale, formally a "complex theme-and-variations", is the most turbulent movement. It begins with a fanfare of trumpets. Conductor Rafael Kubelik said in a rehearsal: "Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance!" The music progresses to a beautiful melody which is first played by the cellos. The tension is masterfully built and finally released at approximately two minutes into the piece, with a cascade of instruments triumphantly playing the initial theme at a somewhat faster pace. A central contrasting episode is derived from the main theme. From there the movement compellingly progresses through a tempestuous middle section, modulating from major to minor several times throughout. After a return to the slow, lyrical section, the piece ends on a chromatic coda, in which brass and timpani are greatly prominent. Laki summarises: "Dvorák's handling of form is indebted to Beethoven and Brahms, but he filled out the form with melodies of an unmistakably Czech flavor and a joviality few composers at the time possessed. The variations vary widely in character: some are slower and some are faster in tempo, some are soft (such as the virtuosic one for solo flute), and some are noisy; most are in the major mode, though the central one, reminiscent of a village band, is in the minor. The music is always cheerful and optimistic."
1st movement, allegro con brio
2nd movement, adagio
3rd movement, allegretto grazioso
4th movement, allegro
Performances and publication
The composer conducted the orchestra of the National Theater in Prague in the first performance on 2 February 1890, as part of the concert 13. Populäres Konzert der Künstlerressource (13th popular concert of the artists' resource). After the successful premiere, he conducted the work again on 7 November 1890 in a Museumskonzert in Frankfurt and the following year in Cambridge, on the night before his being awarded an honorary doctorate. The symphony was performed several times by the Royal Philharmonic Society during his sixth trip to the United Kingdom.
Hans Richter conducted the first performances in Vienna and London. He wrote after the concert in Vienna to the composer: "An dieser Aufführung hätten Sie gewiß Freude gehabt. Wir alle haben gefühlt, daß es sich um ein herrliches Werk handelt: darum waren wir alle auch mit Enthusiasmus dabei. […] Der Beifall war warm und herzlich." (You would have enjoyed this performance very much. We all felt that it is a great work, therefore we all were enthusiastic. […] The applause was warm and cordial.)
Dvořák had the London firm of Vincent Novello publish the symphony in 1890, because he had disagreements with his regular publisher Fritz Simrock, who was more interested in shorter works as moneymakers. Simrock wanted to publish the movement titles and the composer's name in German, which Dvořák refused as a "proud Bohemian".
Along with the Seventh and the Ninth, the symphony is regarded as one of his major achievements.
- Schwartz, Elizabeth (2013). Dvořák's Eighth Symphony. Oregon Symphony, program notes.
- Ostmann, Jürgen (2013). Von Themen und ihren Schicksalen (in German). Rheingau Musik Festival, program notes.
- Laki, Peter (2010). "Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88". Kennedy Center, program notes for the National Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
- Christoph Hahn, Siegmar Hohl (eds.), Bertelsmann Konzertführer. Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag, Gütersloh/Munich 1993, ISBN 3-570-10519-9
- Annette Retinski, Alfred Beaujean, Harenberg Konzertführer: der Schlüssel zu 600 Werken von 200 Komponisten: mit 800 CD-Empfehlungen der "FonoForum"-Redaktion, fourth edition. Harenberg Kommunikation, Dortmund, 1998. ISBN 3-611-00535-5.
- Hansjürgen Schaefer: Konzertbuch Orchestermusik A-F. VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1958.
- Info on a comprehensive Dvorak site
- Symphony No. 8: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Full score from the Indiana University School of Music
- Free recording of Dvořák's Symphony No. 8 by the Columbia University Orchestra
- Free download by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Carlo Maria Giulini from radio4.nl [This download not currently available]