Sergey Rachmaninov

The Isle of the Dead, symphonic poem, Op. 29

    Description by Robert Cummings

    Described by Stravinsky as "six feet two inches of Russian gloom," Rachmaninov was attracted by the Dies irae theme, a melody used in the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, or Requiem Mass. He very frequently quoted or alluded to this theme in his compositions, including the The Isle of the Dead, regarded as the quintessential expression of the composer's melancholy. This work was inspired by the painting by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin. Böcklin's haunting painting depicts an island, in front of which stands a barricade of stones. Further out from it, jutting high out of the sea, is a huge rock, within which are large chambers for the dead. A boat can be seen on the waters operated by a black-clad helmsman, whose white-robed passenger stands ghost-like. Rachmaninov's composition begins with rhythmic motif played by muted cellos and harp, suggesting the movement of the dark waters near the barricade surrounding the lifeless isle. A somber second theme, presented by French horn, reinforces the despondent mood. Soon there are hints of the Dies irae theme, after which the opening motif returns. The music then becomes restless and intense, the tempo increasing, orchestral colors appearing. A climax is reached and the material from the opening reappears, now fuller and agitated. Finally the music subsides, but afterwards there are more allusions to the Dies irae melody. A new theme appears, on strings and reeds, and rises to an impassioned climax, the music yearning, struggling, it seems, to offer some consolation or hoping to escape this strange world. A further climactic episode ensues, after which the fragment of the Dies irae once more dominates this grim musical landscape. Afterward the music fades, and the dark material of the opening returns. Just before the ending there comes a nearly full statement of the Dies irae melody.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 MMG MCD 10020
    2018 Eloquence
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797477
    2017 SWR Music SWR 19028 CD
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Alto / Musical Concepts MCSCD 6005
    2014 Warner Classics 2564627827
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793631
    2014 Decca 4786765
    2014 Hungaroton HCD 32737
    2014 Analogue Productions / RCA Victor CAPC 2183 SA
    2013 Melodiya MYD 1002090
    2013 Dutton Digital / Dutton Laboratories CDVS 1921
    2013 Naxos 8573234
    2012 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 BIS 1751
    2011 BD Cinema / Zebralution
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 4779505
    2011 Warner Classics 80816
    2010 Newton Classics 8802021
    2010 Exton 00018
    2010 Avie 2188
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Membran 231755
    2009 Oehms Classics 632
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Music & Arts 1228
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099923761
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 BBC Legends 4259
    2008 Chandos 10475
    2008 Svetlanov 4981
    2008 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2008 Virgin Classics 50272228
    2007 Brilliant Classics 8532
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950088
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 Regis Records 1247
    2007 BBC Legends 42262
    2006 Exton 00156
    2006 Fazer / Finlandia
    2006 RCA 67892
    2006 Decca
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 85459
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 56754
    2005 LPO 4
    2004 Antes Edition BM 319203
    2004 Moscow Studio Archives 20003
    2003 Tim 220828
    2003 Rca Red Seal 74321 88679-2
    2003 Chandos CHAN10104
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75094
    2002 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243575510
    2002 JVC Compact Discs 215
    2001 History 205259
    2000 Finlandia 81967
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 463 075-2GH
    1999 Praga PR250131
    1999 Praga 250131
    1998 Finlandia 19091
    1998 London 455798
    1998 Lys 382
    1997 Sony Music Distribution MHK62342
    1997 Pearl GEMMCD9261
    1996 Naxos 8553245
    1996 RCA 62532
    1996 Biddulph Recordings WHL045
    1996 Melodiya 34166
    1995 Deutsche Grammophon 445 558-2GMA
    1994 Chesky Records 902
    1994 Naxos 550583
    1994 IMP Masters 82
    1994 RCA 68022
    1994 Hungaroton 31551
    1993 Virgin / Virgin Classics 59279
    1993 London 436283
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 64530
    1993 Philips
    1993 Philips 438383
    1993 BMG 0902661250
    1992 Vox 3002
    1992 RCA 61265
    1991 Decca 430733
    1990 Chesky Records 2
    Bridge
    Intercord Klassische Diskothek 860927
    History 205263
    Nickson 1006
    Tim 220832
    Pearl 9414
    Virgin 59547
    Collins Records 1213
    Melodiya 1000143
    Aurophon Records 31463
    London 430733
    Alfa 1011
    Warner Music
    Alto 1032
    Intersound 3450
    BBC Music Magazine 107
    EMI Music Distribution 751182A
    London 410124
    LYS 375
    Classical Records 010