Ralph Vaughan Williams is often regarded as a 'pastoral' composer – modal, melodic and inspired by folksong – so at the premiere of the Fourth Symphony in 1935, its sense of elemental rage and desolation took many by surprise. Yet fellow British composer William Walton admired the work greatly, speaking of it as 'the greatest symphony since Beethoven'. Completed 20 years later, the Eighth Symphony is the shortest of the composer's symphonies, and much more light-hearted and joyous in mood. At the same time, it too is full of remarkable invention, especially the composer's experiments in orchestral colour and the work's exotic combinations of percussion instruments.
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