Symphony No. 8
Moscow Conservatory Bolshoi Hall; USSR Symphony Orchestra, Ye. Mravinsky (conductor).
1946, Moscow, Leningrad: Muzgiz.
RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 1, f. 9 (score), 10 (score fragments), 11 (piano score, sketches); the Glinka All-Russia Museum Association of Musical Culture, rec. gr. 32, f. 125 (piano score, sketches)
Dedication: “To Yevgenii Aleksandrovich Mravinsky”.
Premiere: November 4, 1943. Moscow - Great Hall of the Conservatoire, State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR. Conductor Y. Mravinsky.
Premieres abroad: April 2, 1944. New York. Symphony Orchestra of the New York Philharmonia. Conductor A. Rodzinski.
April 21, 1944. Boston. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Conductor S. Koussevitzky.
May 26, 1944. Mexico City. Conductor K. Chavez.
July 23, 1944. London. BBC Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Henry Wood.
February 28, 1946. Paris. Conductor R. Désormière.
First Edition: “Muzgiz” Publishers, Moscow, 1946.
“A few days ago I completed work on my new Eighth Symphony. I wrote it very fast - in just over two months. When I finished my Seventh Symphony I was planning to write an opera and a ballet and started work on a heroic oratorio about the defenders of Moscow but then I decided to postpone work on the oratorio and embarked upon the Eighth Symphony.
<...> it has no specific subject matter. It reflects my thoughts and anxieties...There are many inner conflicts in the Eighth Symphony - both tragic and dramatic ones. Yet, all in all it is an optimistic life-affirming work. <...>
The philosophical idea underlying my new work I can express very concisely, in a me re three words. ‘Life is beautiful’. Everything dark and gloomy will perish and disappear and Beauty will triumph”.
“Shostakovich, if one can express it this way, has perfect orchestral pitch. He hears the orchestra as a whole and each instrument separately - in his mind and also while they are playing.
I remember the following incident. We were rehearsing the Eighth Symphony.
In Part I, not long before the main climax, there is an episode where the cor anglais climbs quite high into its second octave. The tune is then taken up by oboes and cellos but can hardly be made out against the background of the rest of the orchestra. Bearing this in mind, at rehearsal the musician played his part an octave lower, so as to spare his lips for the long and important solo, which follows immediately after the climax. To pick out the cor anglais in the orchestra’s flood of sound and to discover the little trick of the cor anglais player was something almost impossible. I must confess, I myself did not notice it, but suddenly Shostakovich’s voice rang out from the stalls behind me: ‘Why is the cor anglais playing an octave lower?’ We were all thunderstruck. The orchestra stopped playing and after a moment’s silence applause broke out.”
Symphony No. 8
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony, Op. 65, was written in 1943. The composer wrote the lengthy five-movement score in just two months. Shostakovich himself noted that the symphony arose spontaneously and notation of the music text was not preceded by long contemplation, as was often the case with other works. When talking about the content of the symphony, Shostakovich noted in particular that it did not have a literary programme, probably wishing to emphasize by this that it differed from the previous score.
The official premiere of the symphony was held on 4 November 1943 in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory performed by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Evgeny Mravinsky.
Following the Moscow premiere, the symphony was performed in Novosibirsk. The Eighth Symphony was performed repeatedly in Moscow, Leningrad and abroad, and three recordings were made of it in the rendition of the Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonic conducted by Mravinsky: on 2 June 1947 (Leningrad studio), 23 September 1960 (London, Royal Festival Hall) and 25 February 1961 (Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic).
The appearance of Shostakovich’s new symphony aroused as much interest abroad as it did in the Soviet Union. For example, in the USA, after the successful premiere of the Seventh Symphony, major conductors literally fought for the right to perform the next orchestral opus of the Soviet composer. The first performance in the USA was held on 2 April 1944 in New York’s Carnegie Hall by the Symphony Orchestra of the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Artur Rodzinsky. The concert was broadcast by 134 radio stations for 25 million listeners58 from the USA and Latin American countries.
On 21 and 22 April 1944, the symphony was heard in Boston where it was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky.
The American premieres were followed by performances in Europe. On 13 July 1944, the Eighth Symphony was played in Great Britain by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Henry Wood.
The discography of the Eighth Symphony is impressive: a number of major conductors, both Shostakovich’s contemporaries and performers of the present day, paid their tribute to this outstanding composition. The symphony was performed and recorded, in particular, by Evgeny Mravinsky, Alexander Gauk, Kirill Kondrashin, Evgeny Svetlanov, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Rudolf Barshai, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Maxim Shostakovich, Mstislav Rostropovich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Dmitri Kitayenko, Valery Gergiev, Serge Koussevitzky, Artur Rodzinsky, André Previn, Kurt Sanderling, Bernard Haitink, Georg Solti, Ladislav Slovák, Neeme Järvi. During Shostakovich’s lifetime, around two dozen gramophone records were put out both in the Soviet Union and abroad.
The first edition of the full score of the Eighth Symphony appeared in 1946 (Muzgiz, Moscow and Leningrad 1946). The full score was first published abroad in 1947 in Leipzig (Breitkopf & Härtel).
- Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky. 1944 // Fonotipia ‘Le Grandi Orchestra nel Mondo, Volume 12’ C015-93 12 (mono). 1993
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Artur Rodzinski. 1944 // AS 538 (mono). 1990
- Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Ye. Mravinsky. 1947 // MK D03620-1, 1957
- State Radio and Television Large Symphony Orchestra, Aleksandr Gauk. 1959 // Revelation RV 10061 (mono), 1997
- Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, K. Kondrashin. 1961 // MK D011185-7-D010714 and C0455-7-C0388. 1962
- London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn. 1973 // HMV ASD 2917, 1973 Berlin City Symphony Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling. 1976 // Eterna 8 26 972, 1977
- London Symphony Orchestra, Yevgeni Svetlanov. 1979 // BBC Legends BBCL 4189-2, 2006
- Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink. 1982 // Decca SXDL 7621, 1983. USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra. Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. 1983 // Melodiya A10 00119 002, 1986
- Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai. 1985 // EMI EL 270290-1, 1985
- USSR Tele-Radio Large Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev. 1985 // Melodiya SUCD 10 00 240, 1991
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti. 1989 // Decca 425 675-1DH; 425 675-2DH, 1989
- Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi. 1989 // Chandos ABRD 1396; CHAN 8757, 1990
- London Symphony Orchestra, Maksim Shostakovich. 1991 // Collins Classics 1271-2, 1991
- National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, Mstislav Rostropovich. 1991 // Teldec 9031 74719-2, 1992
- Kirov Orchestra, Valery Gergiev. 1994 // Philips 446 062-2PH, 1995
- Russian National Orchestra, Paavo Berglund. 2005 // PentaTone classics PTC 5186 084, 2006
- Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra. Alexander Sladkovsky. 2017 // Melodiya. MEL CD 1002470, 2017 (13 CDs)