‘Seven variations in search of a theme’

Variations without a theme? How can that be?? Well…

After the five movements of the Sinfonia Antartica, the Eighth Symphony returns to the more traditional four movement shape. It’s scored for what Vaughan Williams described as a ‘Schubert’ orchestra plus harp and, as he put it, ‘all the ’phones and ’spiels known to the composer’ (i.e.  vibraphone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, tuned gongs, xylophone and celesta).

The two middle movements are slightly unusual in that the scherzo is written solely for wind instruments (no strings) and the Cavatina (slow movement) for just strings (no wind).

The mood of the final Toccata is predominantly yea-saying and involves much work for the ‘’phones and ’spiels’; it ends in the warmth of D major.

André Previn conducts
the London Symphony Orchestra
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876-55708 – 2

Course materials:

VW biography

The music:
Vaughan Williams 8
[Spotify search terms:
vaughan williams “symphony No. 8” previn]

General musical materials:


Cycle of 5ths



This Friday I shall be giving my second pre-concert talk for the BBC NoW performances in the Brangwyn Hall; this week’s subject will be Elgar’s First Symphony. For more information click here.

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