As I gear up for All Rachmaninoff All The Time in April, I’ve been listening to a lot of Russian music that pre-dates Rachmaninoff, particularly by composers who rank amongst his prime influences. Tchaikovsky was certainly one of those; Rachmaninoff actually had a number of encounters with the great older composer during his student years, and Tchaikovsky’s rather sudden death from cholera was a heavy blow for young Sergei. It certainly isn’t hard to listen to Rachmaninoff, even in his mature and later work, and not hear the Tchaikovskian influence.
This tone poem, like the earlier Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, is styled after Shakespeare: the subject this time is The Tempest. The structure here is similar to the more famous work, with its tumultuous depictions of the play’s stormier sections (literally, in this case, as the play begins with a shipwreck caused by a magical storm) and its lyrical love music in the central section. I actually find The Tempest preferable to the Romeo and Juliet overture, but that may be a reaction against the other work’s ubiquity over the years. I can also certainly hear the musical connections between this and the music that Rachmaninoff would produce.
Here is Tchaikovsky’s Symphonic Fantasia, The Tempest.