Dvořák: Symphony no.8 (Emmanuel Krivine / Orchestre National de France)

Duration : 36 minutes

Conducted by Emmanuel Krivine, the Orchestre National de France performs Dvořák's symphony no.8. Excerpt of the concert recorded on 18 October 2018 at the Radio France Auditorium, Paris.

The Symphony no.8 represents a major turning point in Dvořák's symphonic writing. Until then strongly influenced by Brahms, in particular the dense and dramatic Symphony no.7 (1885), the Czech composer seemingly turned towards programmatic music, following the example of Liszt. This change in direction was soon to be confirmed with the newly composed symphonic overtures In nature's realm, Carnival and Othello (1891-1892), with the Symphony no.9 "From the New World" (1893), and most importanlty with the series of five symphonic poems (1896-1897) with which the composer confirmed that his time with the symphonic form had well and truly come to an end. Dvořák therefore stopped, voluntarily, at the number now legendary since Beethoven's nine symphonies, in order to discovere a new musical domain.

Already, the Symphony no.8 combines the appearance of a four-movement symphony with the character of an evocative, even perhaps narrative, symphonic poem. The work is filled with singing birds (flute and clarinet), fanfares and marches, whilst the third movement adopts a waltz-like form from within which springs a rustic trio. However, each listener is free to associate whatever image the music may inspire, as Dvořák left no programmatic indication, though he was certainly inspired by nature and the Vysoká countryside, to where he would often retreat so as to compose in peace.

Loved by the public but not the specialists, the symphony evoked a certain reticence on behalf of Brahms due to its rhapsodic form and lack of coherence, in exchange for its exceptional melodic wealth. If the work seemingly deviates from the traditional Brahmsian symphonic architecture, Dvořák is perhaps influenced by another composer and friend: Tchaikovsky, whose orchestral catalogue is made up of symphonies and programmatic music. The Czech composer heard in 1888 the recent Symphony no.5 composed by his Russian colleague, and the Symphony no.8 by Dvořák indeed shares a number of musical ideas with Tchaikovsky's Fifth (march, waltz, fanfares...). However, though both works begin with a sombre opening, a dark introduction in a minor key, Dvořák's symphony removes itself quickly from such morbidity and becomes one of his most playful.

Though Dvořák wished to premiere his symphony during his planned visit to Russia during the winter of 1889-1890, invited by Tchaikovsky, the work was first performed in London, where it was also published, hence its puzzling nickname "English". Recently nominated to the Czech Academy on 22 April 1890, Dvořák dedicated the work to the academy "in honour of his recent election". 

Written by Gilles Saint-Arroman

The Orchestre National de France performs Moussorgsky, Dvořák, and Rachmaninoff with Nikolaï Lugansky
Full concert
The Orchestre National de France performs Moussorgsky, Dvořák, and Rachmaninoff with Nikolaï Lugansky
Maison de la Radio, Paris
Antonin Dvorak
Antonin Dvorak
All artists
  • Emmanuel Krivine
    Emmanuel KrivineConductor
  • Orchestre National de FranceOrchestra