At the time his Symphony No. 2 was composed, Rachmaninoff had had two successful seasons as the conductor of the Imperial Opera at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He considered himself first and foremost a composer and felt that the performance schedule was detracting from his time to compose. He then moved his wife and infant daughter to Dresden, Germany, to spend more time composing and to also escape the political tumult that would put Russia on the path to revolution. The family remained in Dresden for three years, spending summers at Rachmaninoff's in-law's estate of Ivanovka. It was during this time that Rachmaninoff wrote not only his Second Symphony, but also the tone poem Isle of the Dead.
Rachmaninoff was not altogether convinced that he was a gifted symphonist. At its 1897 premiere, his Symphony No. 1 (conducted by Alexander Glazunov) was considered an utter disaster; criticism of it was so harsh that it sent the young composer into a bout of depression. Even after the success of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (which won the Glinka Award and 500 rubles in 1904), Rachmaninoff still lacked confidence in his writing. He was very unhappy with the first draft of his Second Symphony but after months of revision, he finished the work and conducted the premiere in 1908 to great applause. The work earned him another Glinka Award ten months later. The triumph regained Rachmaninoff's sense of self-worth as a symphonist.
- Symphony No. 2 (sample)