SCRIABIN: Symphony No. 3 / Poem of Ecstasy

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Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)

Symphony No.3, (Le Po?¿me Divin), Op. 43

Le Po?¿me de I'extase, Op. 54

"The only true romantic musicianproduced by Russia," in the words of his friend Boris de Schloezer in 1919,Scriabin, a contemporary of Rasputin, was a loner, emotionally, temperamentallyand stylistically removed from the last Tsarists to whose number he belongedhistorically. In the Mahlerian sense, his philosophy, spiritual and physical,was an embracement of the world. He spent his hours in mystic contemplation, inpsychic transcendence. He spent his days looking for ecstasy, the "highestrising of activity ...the summit". He spent his years lovingwomankind. He spent a whole life worshipping the private mysterium of anastral neosphere only he knew anything about.. "I will ignite yourimagination with the delight of my promise. I will bedeck you in the excellenceof my dreams. I will veil the sky of your wishes with the sparkling stars of mycreation. I bring not truth, but freedom".

One of the legendary cosmic soul journeysof the twentieth century - massively imagined, massively realised, massivelyrisky - the cyclic Third Symphony in C minor, the Divine Poem (1902-04),dates from a time of significant change in Scriabin's life, during which periodhe left his teaching post at the Moscow Conservatory, read Nietzsche and Marx,seduced pubescent girls, abandoned his wife Vera and four children for a newyoung mistress, Tatyana, and went to live in lake-land Switzerland in the hopethat such a refuge might release new ideas within him. Years later, the earlywriting of the symphony, at a country dacha near Maloyaroslavets during thespring of 1903, was vividly remembered by Pasternak: "Just as sun andshade alternated in the forest and birds sang and flew from one branch, bitsand pieces from the Divine Poem, which was being composed at the pianoin the next-door dacha, were flying and rolling in the air. Oh God, what amusic it was!

The symphony was crashing and collapsingagain and again, like a town under artillery fire, and then building andgrowing again out of the wreckage and ruins. It was brimming with an essencechiselled out to the point of insanity, and as new as the forest was new, fullof life and breathing freshness". In November 1903 Scriabin played throughthe piano draft "for the crowd of St. Petersburg composers, and what asurprise! Glazunov was delighted and Rimsky-Korsakov was also veryfavourable". Announced as "a grandiose creation which transports thelistener fantastically into another world", the first"manifestation" took place in Paris on 29th May 1905, under Nikischfor a fee of $750. The Russian premiere in St Petersburg, on 8th March 1906,with Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev at the rehearsals, was directed by FelixBlumenfeld.

The French language "programme"of the work -not so much Scriabin's (lost) poem as a condensed explanation, byTatyana and de Schloezer, her brother -centres on the Ego, divided into Man-Godand Slave-Man. These forces struggle with each other, experience the discordand concord of human experience, and finally through unity and blissful ecstasyattain freedom "in the sky of other worlds". There are threeprincipal (sonata-form) chapters: "Struggles" (Allegro, "mysterious,tragic", "red" C minor); "Sensuous Delights" (Lento,"sublime", "whitish-blue" E major -the distinguishingkey contrast of not only Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto andRachmaninov's Second but also Liszt's Faust Symphony); and"Divine Play" (Allegro, "with radiant joy","red" C major). A short germinal Prologue (Lento, C minor)encloses a trinity of leitmotifs: "Divine Grandeur" (aunisonal bass idea derived from the opening of the unfinished D minorSymphonic Poem [Allegro] of 1896-97, Naxos 8.553587); "Summons toMan"; and "Fear to approach, suggestive of Flight". These arecombined with, or are the source of, the many various ideas running through thework, reaching a climax in the so-called Ego theme (second subject) of thefinale.

Related to the Fifth Piano Sonata andscored for a large orchestra including eight horns, "Russian" bells,organ, multiply divided strings and solo violin, the C major Poem of Ecstasyor Fourth Symphony (conceived 1905, completed summer 1907 - January1908) was first heard in New York on 10th December 1908 (Modest Altschuler),the Russian public premiere following in St Petersburg on 31st January 1909(Blumenfeld). "The nerves of the audience were worn and racked asnerves are seldom assailed even in these days," ventured W. J. Hendersonin the New York Sun. "The hero of the concert was Scriabin,composer, who is not yet forty but whose already well-known name ignites themost fervent controversies: for some his music is utter nonsense, for others itis a revelation of genius... After the performance of the Poem ofEcstasy under the baton of Blumenfeld, the composer was wildlycalled for, and his success was enormous" (Rech, 2nd February;1909). "What a work of genius!" Prokofiev enthused (along withMiaskovsky) - "But later, when the intellectual coldness of some ofScriabin's 'flights' became discernible, that opinion had to be downgraded abit". This "radiant poem," Scriabin's pupil, the pianist MariaNemenov-Lunz, recalled, "was composed in a tiny half-dark garret rentedfrom the owner of a greengrocer's [in Bogliasco on the ItalianRiviera]. There was a jolly din and hum of voices in the shop from early morninguntil late into the night... for composing he had a broken piano, whichwas a tone-and-a-half lower than normal pitch and was rented from a cafe.

Trains roared past the windows. Despite all this, despite constantworries about making ends meet, Alexander never uttered a word ofcomplaint... he was working on his new composition in ecstasy, with feverishenthusiasm". The hundreds of surviving sketches and changes show just howhard he had to labour over his creation.

Structurally, the music is in the form ofa single-movement tone-poem consisting of a tripartite sonata Allegrovolando (exposition, development, reprise) flanked by a double motif slowprologue (Andante, lento: "human striving after the ideal"[longing theme, flute], the Ego [dream theme, clarinet]) and a quick,diatonically affirmative coda (Allegro molto). The sonata core featuresthree subject groups: (a) "The Soaring Flight of the Spirit" (flute),(b) Human Love (solo violin, the receptive female), and (c) "The Will toRise" (trumpet, the phallic male [victory theme]), Scriabin intended thewhole to be an orgiastic, orgasmic excitation and release through mounting climax:descriptively, the final blinding gush of "red" C major spells"the union of the Cosmic Eros in the final act of love between the maleprinciple of the Creator and the Woman-World". And he wrote atheosophical/symbolist poem to go with it, the self-assertion, the "Iam" of the Spirit, which he was wont to recite to anyone who would listen.

Realising, however, that its independence from the sound event might confuse,he withheld it from the published score, advising instead that "conductors...should start by approaching [the work] as pure music". Pictorial,
Item number 8553582
Barcode 730099458221
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Lokalenkov, Dmitri
Lokalenkov, Dmitri
Composers Scriabin, Alexander
Scriabin, Alexander
Conductors Golovschin, Igor
Golovschin, Igor
Orchestras Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Producers Inc. Betta International
Inc. Betta International
Disc: 1
La Poeme de l'extase
1 Lento
2 Luttes (Struggles)
3 Voluptes (Delights)
4 Jeu divin (Divine Play)
5 Le Poeme de l'extase, Op. 54
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