Rachmaninov would never recover from the trauma of leaving his homeland during the First World War... his subsequent works always seem colored by nostalgia. Composed in 1940 after his Third Symphony, the Symphonic Dances are one of his last major creations, and epitomize his comment that, “I try to have my heart speak directly and simply through music”, as he once confided to a journalist. The work is dedicated to the Philadelphia Orchestra, the “best orchestra in the world”, and its then-conductor, Eugene Ormandy.
The short three-note motif of the introduction becomes the movement’s principal theme, followed by a second rhythmic motif. The music alternates between a dramatic and grotesque march, a calm and nostalgic central section, and the Andante’s melancholic spirit and a Dies Irae inspired by orthodox Russian chant. Another motif reminiscent of one from his First Symphony is then featured and yet another draws on Ravel’s Valse.