Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony (in C minor) is an enormous work, comprising nearly ninety minutes of music. The work is scored for enormous orchestra:
The 1887 version requires an instrumentation of three each of the following woodwind: flutes (the third doubling as piccolo), oboes, clarinets, bassoons (the third doubling as contrabassoon) – the triple woodwinds, however, only enter in the Finale (with double woodwind for the earlier movements) – in addition to eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones, a quartet of Wagner tubas, which double as Horns 5–8 in the Finale, and a single contrabass tuba, along with timpani, cymbals, triangle, three harps, and strings.
We’ve come a long way from the Mozart orchestra where you might not even have trumpets or timpani, haven’t we?
The Eighth is the last symphony Bruckner completed (he left behind an unfinished Ninth), and as such, this work represents the apex of his symphonic powers. If you’re attuned to Bruckner and his cathedral-like approach to orchestral sound in his gigantic symphonies, this is music of the highest order. (If not, well, I can’t help you.) Unlike the Fourth, which is rather radiant throughout, Bruckner is grappling with real issues of darkness in the Eighth, which gives the work a lot of its epic feel.
Here is Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C minor. Go on its journey!
Next week: a retreat, of sorts.