Symphony No. 8 represents a return, after a number of major works, to orchestral music where the
subject of the work is the language of music itself, as in the tradition of the 18th and 19th century
Symphony No. 8 contains no references or allusions to non-musical materials at all. However, its
formal structure is quite unusual and is worth a brief comment. The three movements are markedly
different from each other in length, texture and internal musical procedures.
The first movement is the longest of the three, almost 20 minutes in length. It begins with a statement
of eight different ‘themes.’ This series is then developed in whole or in part, recombined with
various harmonies and melodic elements and culminates in a series of ‘stretto’-like passages
producing a highly contrapuntal effect.
The second movement, about 12 minutes long, is in the form of a passacaglia with a series of
melodic variations. The harmonic basis of the passacaglia is 16 measures long, which allows for
some extended, at times quite oblique, melodic embellishments.
The third movement, by comparison to the first two, is quite brief – a short 7 minutes. However,
what it lacks in length it makes up in density. The theme with its accompanying harmony is heard
twice then joined by a counter theme, also heard twice. An extended cadence serves as a coda to
the third movement and the symphony itself.
— Philip Glass