MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The Isle of the Dead

I was recently studying Rachmaninoff’s famous tone poem for a project. This interpretation by Evgeny Svetlanov and the BBC Symphony I rather enjoy — especially how they bring off the brooding opening.

Here’s one of the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin’s several color paintings of the famous image that inspired Rachmaninoff. (The composer said he preferred the black and white reproduction that gave him his first impression of the painting, claiming he may not have composed the tone poem had he seen the original first.)

Isola_dei_Morti_IV_(Bocklin)

Regarding extramusical inspirations, Rachmaninoff once remarked:

When composing, I find it is of great help to have in mind a book just recently read, or a beautiful picture, or a poem. Sometimes a definite story is kept in mind, which I try to convert into tones without disclosing the source of my inspiration.

As for The Isle of the Dead, which he composed while in Dresden in 1909 Rachmaninoff specifically stated: “When it came how it began — how can I say? It all came up within me, was entertained, written down.”

Filed under: aesthetics, painting, Rachmaninoff

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