15 Nov 2013

Dvorak – Symphony No. 8 in G Major, op. 88

by Jeff Counts

 Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubles English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings.

Duration: 34 minutes in four movements.

THE COMPOSER – ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) – Dvořák produced a lot of excellent music in 1889, immediately following a period of focus on the revision of earlier works (a practice that plagued the chronological understanding of his catalogue for many years). Among the fresh creations were three overtures, the “Dumky” Trio, the Requiem and the 8th Symphony. Dvořák’s fame was fully established by this time so when the Prague Conservatory offered him a teaching post, he declined.  

THE HISTORY – The job was offered again a year later and Dvořák accepted. Biographer Klaus Döge believed this reversal was due in part to the falling out Dvořák had with Simrock (his publisher) over the fee offered for the 8th Symphony. Their relationship had almost broken over the 7th Symphony fee so when Simrock offered two thirds less for the 8th, Dvořák took deep offense. He was a driven composer, insistent on making a highly original impression as a symphonist and Simrock’s continual undervaluing of his most cherished efforts often put significant strain on their professional collaborations. Dvořák’s consequent willingness to take his work to a competing firm in London was also a prime contributor to the numbering issues that surround his symphonies. Novello published this work as No. 4, not 8, but despite their desire to maintain a distinct collection, the G Major Symphony was Dvořák’s 8th foray into the form. We call it No. 8 today for good reason as it signaled the fully-realized maturity of a composer intent on leaving his Germanic influences behind. Dvořák scholar Otakar Sourek felt the 8th Symphony projected the composer’s Slavic heritage “more completely…than any of his other symphonies” and further declared that the “variety of mood and emotional eruptiveness” of the music wonderfully captured Dvořák’s “human and artistic personality.” The symphony was mostly written in the Bohemian countryside that Dvořák so adored and finished in Prague late in 1889. Dvořák conducted the 1890 premiere and truly believed he had made something truly “different from other symphonies,” by which he meant anyone’s, not just his own.

THE WORLD – The Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889 as part of the World’s Fair in Paris. Also that year, Vincent Van Gogh painted The Starry Night, the Wall Street Journal was founded and Brazil became a Republic.