It can be easy to forget that even creative giants throughout history experienced writer’s block. After the premiere of his first symphony, Sergei Rachmaninov suffered a crisis of confidence, which spiralled into a period of depression. The performance was disparaged by critics and audiences alike; an under-rehearsed orchestra and a sloppy, reportedly drunk conductor certainly didn’t help.

Three years went by and Rachmaninov still felt unable to compose. Finally, he sought treatment from Dr Nikolai Dahl, a psychiatrist who specialised in hypnosis therapy. After months of daily sessions, the dark cloud over his inspiration lifted and Rachmaninov entered a period of creative productivity. Public acclaim came with the premiere of his second piano concerto. This success was followed by two operas, a cello sonata, and a full schedule as the resident conductor of the Imperial Opera at the Bolshoi Theatre, which kept him busy.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Despite this, Rachmaninov experienced trepidation over writing another symphony, working fastidiously on drafts over the summers of 1906 and 1907....