Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88

From the mid 19th century, the music of the East European countries gradually came into contact with the principal current of European music. Although an impressive number of Czech composers participated in the formation of classical style in the previous century, the objectives of their successors radically changed. New generations aimed to create a national Czech style. The first composer of note to take this path was Smetana, and his aspirations were continued by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), who was twenty years his junior.

Dvořák was a highly versatile composer who wrote for an impressive diversity of genres. He utilised traditional forms such as operas, overtures, chamber forms and symphonies, through which his national characteristics could achieve independance. Perhaps the symphonies play the greatest role in this personal journey, since they represent almost every compositional period in Dvořák’s career. This highly personal relationship to the symphonic genre is reminiscent of the great classical composers, but their example probably also influenced Dvořák’s attitudes. Like Beethoven, he also wrote nine symphonies. Analysing these symphonies, it is clear that the Czech composer dedicated himself to continuing the symphonic traditions, both in terms of content and form. Instead of programme music, which attracted contemporaries such as Liszt, he turned to the examples of Brahms and Schubert. We see this reflected clearly in the Symphony no. 8 which retains a typical four movement structure.

The symphony commences with a ceremonious G minor introduction intoned on clarinets, horns and cellos, which can be traced back to 18th century traditions. However, it does not emulate them entirely. Its reappearance before the development section and also before the recapitulation – this time augmented by trumpets – is a very individual solution, investing the introductory material with the role of effectively pencilling out the sections. The trumpet fanfare of the combined sonata and rondo form Finale also unexpected returns at a later moment in the movement. The C minor Adagio string opening derives from a more intimate world of feeling. Dvořák’s sensuousness is far removed from the German romantic masters and can be more directly linked with other contemporary Slavic composers, primarily Tchaikovsky. The dance-like atmosphere of the Scherzo again recalls the Tchaikovsky of the enchanted ball scenes. However Dvořák imbues these salon dances with folk dance elements. These are not unambiguous Czech folk dances but rather certain characteristic rhythmic formulae and cadences with original folk melodies only cropping up sporadically.

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