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Alexander Scriabin
(1872 - 1915)
by Don Robertson

2005 by Rising World Entertainment

The Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was born on Christmas Day 7 January 1872, and died on Easter, 14 April, 1915. He was very, very famous during his lifetime, one of the greatest pianists every, but almost forgotten after his death. He left behind a body of piano and compositions, a few  orchestral works, a beautiful piano concerto, and five great symphonies, and these were little understood by most people. He continued to be a part of the classical music activities in Russia, but it was the outside world that neglected him until recently. Today, there is worldwide resurgence of interest in his music, and also in his ideas.
    And there should be a resurgence, because Scriabin was one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century, creating a new kind of music and musical philosophy that was never known before, and is still not understood today.
    Scriabin's earliest influence was Chopin, and his earliest piano 

Scriabin's home in Moscow, now the Scriabin Museum.

pieces were similiar in title and length to Chopin's: preludes, etudes, mazurkas. Many critics branded Scriabin's earliest works as "diluted Chopin." But nothing could be further from the truth. Scriabin's lush, soaring sonorities were something new, something fresh.
     About 1899, Scriabin became absorbed in the music of Richard Wagner and that year wrote his Symphony Number 1. Wagner's influence now had become stronger that Chopin. The symphony was harmonically and melodically, a rapturous wave of feeling and terminated with a vocal final movement, the text a tribute in praise of Art. The beautiful Symphony Number 2, followed in 1901.
   After this, Scriabin began to find a new voice, one that was completely unique, and this voice was first heard in the forth piano sonata written between 1901 and 1903. New tonalities were explored in this work as root chords contained what musicians call flatted fifths. This tonal structure became even more pronounced in the fifth sonata of 1907 and in all the intervening pieces between these sonatas.
     Scriabin was also heavily evolved in the teachings of Theosophy and in mysticism and his whole life and his music leaned more and more in this direction as time went on. He also became preoccupied with the the creation of positive and negative effects through music and his sixth sonata was a negative one, so negative, in fact, that he refused to play it. The seventh piano sonata composed during the same time period (1911-1912) he called the "White Mass," because he considered it of great purity. Its harmonic structure was unlike any created by a composer before.

Page One of  the"The White Mass" manuscript:
    Scriabin's forth symphony, composed between 1905 and 1907, was called the "Poem of Ecstasy as was a single movement lasting a half hour, so it is really more a poem than a symphonic work. With this work, the composer wished to stimulate an experience of divine ecstasy in the listener. He wrote a parallel poetic work to help describe the music. It begins "/Spirit, /Winged with thirst for life, /Is drawn into flight /On the summits of negation. /There, under the rays of its dream, /Emerges a magical world Of heavenly forms and feelings /Spirit playing, /Spirit desiring."
    Scriabin once said to a friend, "When you listen to 'Ecstasy' look straight into the eye of the Sun!" The Poem of Ecstasy was followed in 1909-1910 by Prometheus, "The Poem of Fire." This work, with a completely unorthodox harmonic structure, had a part written in the score for a light keyboard, a keyboard that would be connected to a lighting system that flooded the concert hall with colored lights, the colors defined by the keys pressed on the keyboard and determined by the score.
   Scriabin's greatest work was to be called the Mysterium and it would cause a transformation in the listeners. It would contain words, music, dance as well as perfumes and sensations of touch and taste. He worked on the plan for this work throughout the last years of his life. He died prematurely at age 43.
   Scriabins' music from the forth sonata on is a mixture of negative and positive, though he never mixed the two in a single piece or movement. The ninth sonata he called the "Black Mass," but the eighth and final tenth, are luxurious travels in the upper astral planes. Of Scriabin's music, Manly Palmer Hall said "One of the most truly spiritual of all musicians was Scriabin, but he must be approached with caution by those whose emotional lives are disorganized." Corinne Heline had this to say: "Scriabin was a true messenger and prophet of the Aquarian Age."
In the history of harmony in Western culture, there has been an ever-expanding movement "up" the harmonic overtone series. During the Renaissance major, minor and dimished triads were used in the music at first, then the 7th was allowed under very specific circumstances. The 7th was liberated at the beginning of the Baroque era and throughout that era chords consisting of 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of the scale (example: G,B,D,F) were used as a part of the harmony. Composers in Beethoven's era began using 9th chords, add ing one more note (G,B,D,F,A), however all five notes were not really used together. It was probably Liszt who began freeing ninth chords as seventh chords had been liberated before, and this inspired Wagner who used them freely. Wagner inspired the French composers who began using straight ninth chords. From this base, a number of French composers began experimenting with even higher notes of the harmonic series. Most of these composers are unknown today, and only Debussy succeeded in introducing a new music to the Western world using chords of the ninth and beyond. However, there were two composers who developed music harmonically beyond the 9th chord. The other was Scriabin, who went beyond Debussy in his explorations and brought to us the first music from astral dimensions, music based on these higher partials. Which pieces of music? Works from later in his life: The 8th and 10th Piano Sonatas.

Scriabin on the Web

The Scriabin Society

The Scriabin Museum in Moscow


Aspen Site

MP3 Examples

-> Impromptu, Opus 14, No 2
-> Impromptu, Opus 12, No 2
-> Mazurka, Opus 25, Number 2
-> Prelude, Opus 13, Number 1
-> Prelude, Opus 13, Number 3
-> Prelude, Opus 13, Number 5
-> Prelude, Opus 15, Number 1
-> Prelude, Opus 15, Number 3
-> Prelude, Opus 15, Number 4
-> Prelude, Opus 15, Number 5
-> Prelude, Opus 16, Number 4
-> Prelude, Opus 22, Number 1
-> Prelude, Opus 33, Number 1

Scriabin Books

Scriabin: A Biography
Fabian Bowers
Dover Publications

Scriabin: Artist and Mystic
Boris de Schloezer
Translated by Nicolas Slonimsky
University of California Press

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