SCRIABIN: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Bernd Glemser/ Dario Müller) (Naxos: 8.553158)
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Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872 - 1915)
Sonata No.2 in G Sharp Minor, Op. 19 (Sonata-Fantasy)
Sonata No.5, Op. 53
Sonata No.6, Op. 62
Sonata No.7, Op. 64 (White Mass)
Sonata No.9, Op. 68 (Black Mass)
Fantasy in B Minor, Op. 28
The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin is an isolated figure, eventuallyseparated from the mainstream of Russian music by his own peculiar brand ofmysticism, in which he saw himself in a Messianic light. Nevertheless his questfor a means of bringing together colour and music, the visual and the aural,technically impossible with the means at his disposal, has now been to someextent realised, while his harmonic and melodic innovations took place at a timewhen others too were seeking new means of musical expression. His relativelyearly death led to a subsequent undervaluation of his achievement, which itselfin some ways foreshadowed important changes that later took place in Westernmusic.
Scriabin was born in Moscow in 1872, the son of a lawyer who made his careerlargely in the Russian consular service and of a mother of considerable musicalability, a pupil of Leschetizky. His mother, who enjoyed a reputation as agifted pianist, died in 1873 and his father's decision to serve abroad andsubsequent remarriage led to a childhood in the care of his paternal grandmotherand an unmarried aunt, who pandered to his every whim and were able to encouragehis obvious interest in the piano and in music. In 1882, inspired by the exampleof his father's younger brother, he joined the Moscow Military Academy as acadet, boarding with an uncle who was a member of the Academy staff, while hisgrandmother and aunt lived nearby. His precarious health excused him from morerigorous military training and he was able to undertake a more systematic studyof the piano with Georgy Konyus, a student at the Conservatory. Further moredisciplined study with Rachmaninov's teacher, Nikolay Zverev, was followed bylessons in theory from Sergey Taneyev and admission to Safonov's piano class atthe Conservatory, where he had lessons in counterpoint and fugue with Arensky.
The completion of his studies at the Military Academy in 1889 allowed him to payexclusive attention to music and in 1892 he graduated as a pianist, taking thesecond gold medal to Rachmaninov's first, and echoing the achievement of hismother, who had been a gold medallist at the St Petersburg Conservatory twentyyears before.
For Zverev Scriabin had seemed primarily a pianist. He had, however, alwaysbeen able to improvise at the piano, creating pieces that followed Chopin, acomposer that he idolised, but at the Conservatory he found little inclinationto fulfil the basic requirements, particularly those of the class incounterpoint and fugue. While Rachmaninov graduated also as a composer, Scriabinleft without this qualification, preferring to follow his own course. Hisambition as a pianist had led to damage to the right hand, but its full use wasgradually restored by careful exercise.
Scriabin's early music was published, with due hesitation, by Jurgenson, butit was Belyayev, an enthusiastic patron of contemporary Russian composers, wholaunched Scriabin's career as both composer and pianist, publishing his musicunder his own imprint and sponsoring and accompanying him on a concert tourabroad, followed by concerts in Russia. In August 1897 he married the youngpianist Vera Ivanovna Isaakovich and after a winter spent abroad was glad toaccept the offer of employment as a member of the teaching staff of MoscowConservatory, a position offered him by Safonov. Like Tchaikovsky before him,Scriabin found the drudgery of teaching not entirely to his taste, although, asa married man, he now needed to support himself and his wife. Meanwhile hecontinued to establish himself as a composer, with the success of his PianoConcerto, first performed in Odessa two months after his marriage.
The next five years were spent principally in Moscow. Safonov continued toencourage his former pupil and conducted performances of the first two ofScriabin's symphonies, works that divided audiences. It had been his intentionto earn enough money to resign his Conservatory position and spend the winter of1904 in Switzerland. This was eventually made possible through the help of arich pupil, who provided an annual income, a useful addition to the incomealready supplied through Belyayev's earlier generosity. At first Scriabin andhis wife settled in Switzerland, where he worked on his Third Symphony, theLe divin po?¿me, which was performed in Paris in early 1905. There he wasaccompanied by his former pupil Tatiana Fedorovna Schloezer, with whom he livedafter separation from his wife, who was now invited by Safonov to teach at theMoscow Conservatory. Scriabin's income from the Belyayev foundation was at thistime reduced and then withdrawn, and there seemed some possibility ofperformances and money in New York, where his next major orchestral work, the Poemof Ecstasy was played in 1908. A meeting with Koussevitzky, who now offeredto publish his music and provide an annuity, led to a return to Russia, wherehis works were received with great enthusiasm. A short period abroad again, inBrussels, led to the composition of Prometheus, with its plannedsimultaneous use of colour. His efforts now were directed towards the great Mysterium,intended as the culmination of his work, towards which his last five pianosonatas now tended. This was, however, to remain unwritten, although texts andmusical sketches were made for the introduction to the work. Scriabin died ofsepticaemia in 1915.
Scriabin was generally eclectic in his philosophical and mystical interests.
At one time fascinated by Nietzsche, he had then turned to Madame Blavatsky andthe teachings of theosophy and continued to be preoccupied by eclectic mysticalnotions leading to the goal of the Mysterium" the work that wouldunite all in one, perceptible by all the senses, anticipating the finalcataclysm, the end of the world and the appearance of the divine. His ideas mayseem highly exaggerated and were certainly centred essentially on himself andhis own imagined Messianic r??le.
The ten piano sonatas left by Scriabin follow very exactly his development asa composer. While the first of the sonatas was written in 1892, the year inwhich he completed his studies at the Moscow Conervatory, the remarkable SonataNo. 2 in G sharp minor was written between that date and 1897, to bepublished the following year by Belyayev. The third and fourth of the seriesappeared in 1898 and 1903 respectively, with Sonata No 5 published byScriabin himself in 1908, Sonata No. 6 and Sonata No. 7 completedin 1911 and Sonata No. 8 and Sonata No. 9 the product of the years1912 to 1913, the latter the year of Sonata No. 10.
By 1897 the influence of Chopin is still strong enough, to be heard in thefifty shorter pieces published that year, Preludes and Impromptus. Newfields are explored in Sonata No 2 in G sharp minor, Opus 26 (Sonata-Fantasy),completed in Paris in 1897, with its gently evocative opening Andante andthe savage energy of the following Presto. An explanatory programmesuggests, at the beginning, a quiet southern night by the sea, with adevelopment reflecting the turbulence of the deep: there is moonlight in thecentral section, while the second movement shows the ocean in a storm.
Sonata No 5, completed in 190