A graceful and carefree work bearing the bucolic imprint of the Bohemian countryside where it was composed: no more was needed to make Dvořák's Eighth Symphony one of his most popular compositions. It was written within a few weeks during autumn 1889, four years after the composer's previous Symphony No. 7 in D minor. "I want to compose something different from other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way," promised Dvořák as he set to work in his country home at Vysoká. This symphony ended the personal crisis that had been overwhelming the composer for the past four years. He was now able to let "the melodies simply pour out" throughout this score in which he integrated Czech folk-idioms.
Dvořák himself conducted the symphony's premiere in Prague on 2 February 1890, and then again in London and Frankfurt. He also presented the symphony in Cambridge when he was awarded a doctorate Honoris Causa by the famous British university. "It is a splendid work!" said conductor Hans Richter after first hearing the piece in Vienna, whereas Brahms pointed out that "everything is beautiful and musically captivating". Simrock, Dvořák's publisher in Berlin, would have prefered small salon pieces, cheaper to publish, than a new large-scale work. The composer considered Simrock's offer for his 8th Symphony to be an insult and sold the rights to the London firm of Novello instead. This is why the G-major Symphony is sometimes referred to as Dvořák's "English Symphony", although its character is genuinely bohemian. Beyond the joyful and pastoral tone, the G-major Symphony also reveals a darker side, starting with the cantilena that opens the first movement in a minor key. This motive reappears throughout the movement, along with numerous other melodic ideas. "You've scarcely got to know one figure before a second one beckons with a friendly nod, so you're in a state of constant but pleasurable excitement," once said Leoš Janáček, another leading Czech composer. The symphony continues with an Andante that also alternates between major and minor keys and a swirling waltz (Allegretto grazioso) that takes on a Ländler style. The bubbling Finale incorporates two sets of variations.