Optimistic and lyrical: Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G major

From the exhibition about the life of Antonín Dvořák

Czech composer Antonín Dvořák is best known for his New World Symphony, but one of his other outstanding and much loved works is his Symphony No. 8 in G major.   

Unlike the composer’s Symphony No. 7, which was stormy and romantic, his Symphony No. 8 in G major is optimistic and lyrical and draws inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved.

In it, the composer 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 and a lot of improvisation.

Rudolfinum | Photo: Martina Kutková,  Radio Prague International

The symphony was performed for the first time in Prague’s Rudolfinum on February 2, 1890. Dvořák conducted the work himself, as he did its British premiere, which was performed in London on April 24 of that same year at a concert hosted by the Philharmonic Society in St. James’s Hall.

The symphony was a resounding success, in the eyes of both the public and critics. Dvořák was portrayed in the British press as the only living composer who could rightfully be named as Beethoven’s successor.

Dvořák later described the experience in a letter to his friend, Václav Juda Novotny:

“The concert came off wonderfully, perhaps more so than at any time in the past. After the first movement there was universal applause, after the second it was even louder, after the third it was so thunderous that I had to turn round several times and thank the audience, but, after the finale, the applause was tempestuous – from the audience in the auditorium, in the galleries, from the orchestra itself, and from the people sitting behind it – they all clapped so hard, it was almost unbearable. I was called back to the concert podium several times – in short, it was all so wonderful and sincere, just like it is at premieres at home in Prague. I am delighted and thank God that it turned out so well!”

Dvořák's Symphony No. 8 in G Major "English" | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

Dvořák conducted the symphony several times after that: in Frankfurt on November 7, 1890, in Cambridge on June 15, 1891, when he received an honorary degree from the city’s university, on August 12, 1893 as part of “Czech Day”, organized during the World Fair in Chicago, and once again in London on March 19, 1896.