Oddly, given my love of Sergei Rachmaninov, it’s odd that I’ve heard this particular work of his only a couple of times, and not at all in the last five or six years. “The Rock” is a tone poem Rachmaninov wrote early in his career, when he was just twenty years old. The piece is surprisingly impressionistic and colorful for a composer who would later be known for achingly lyrical post-Romanticism, but the work also displays Rachmaninov’s skill for orchestration, all the more surprising for a composer so strongly associated with the piano (contrasting with, say, Franz Liszt, whose orchestrations were occasionally bound by his deep understanding of the piano).
The Rock is partially based on a fragment of poetry:
The golden cloud slept through the night
Upon the breast of the giant-rock
The piece also draws (according to the composer) from a Chekhov short story in which a man, stuck in a blizzard, tells a young woman the story of his life and his struggles. There is certainly that kind of brooding at work here in this piece…but of course there’s brooding. We’re talking about Sergei Rachmaninov here.
Here is The Rock.