Like many of his contemporaries, Hugo Wolf was also overwhelmed when Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was premiered in Vienna on 18 December 1892: “This symphony is the creation of a giant and surpasses all the master’s other symphonies in spiritual dimension, richness and greatness.”
The greatness attested to by Wolf is shown in many ways – first in its length, which puts all other works by Bruckner in the shade. In addition, the composer achieves a unique emotional power, such as in in the slow movement where themes of changing moods – we can hear doubt, sadness and warm comfort – intertwine, building up great intensity of expression.
Bruckner’s inspiration here is also rich and varied. He himself claimed to use both the emotional and sound worlds of Wagner in the first movement, in particular the Todesverkündigung, the “annunciation of death” from the Valkyrie and the monologue of the Flying Dutchman. In the finale on the other hand, there are echoes of a historical meeting of the Austrian Emperor and the Russian czar, for example in a “Ride of the Cossacks” in the string accompaniment at the beginning of the movement. Despite its multifaceted and well-calculated contrasting nature, the music is not fractured: Rather, it is firmly bound together by the ever-present personality of the composer, which ensures that the symphony maintains a never-diminishing intensity.