Alexander Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin ( _ru. Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Скря́бин, "Aleksandr Nikolaevič Skrjabin"; sometimes transliterated as Skriabin, Skryabin, or Scriabine) (OldStyleDateDY|6 January|1872|25 December 1871–27 April 1915) was a Russian composer and pianist who developed a highly lyrical and idiosyncratic tonal language. Driven by a poetic, philosophical and aesthetic vision that bordered on the mystical, he can be considered the primary figure of Russian Symbolism in music.

Scriabin influenced composers like Olivier Messiaen, Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, although Scriabin was reported to have disliked Prokofiev's and Stravinsky's music.cite journal |last= Bowers|first= Faubion|authorlink= Faubion Bowers|coauthors= |year= 1966|month= |title= Scriabin Again and Again|journal= Aspen Magazine|volume= |issue= 2|location= New York|publisher= Roaring Fork Press|pages= |oclc= 50534422|id= |url=|accessdate= 2008-04-14|quote= ]

Scriabin stands as one of the most innovative and most controversial of composers. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia said of Scriabin that, "No composer has had more scorn heaped or greater love bestowed..." Leo Tolstoy once described Scriabin's music as "a sincere expression of genius." [E.E. Garcia (2004): [ "Rachmaninoff and Scriabin: Creativity and Suffering in Talent and Genius"] . "Psychoanalytic Review", 91: 423–42.]

Scriabin was highly regarded during his lifetime and his music has resurged in popularity in the last few decades after suffering a period of decline in the middle of the 20th century. He has consistently remained a favorite composer among pianists.


Childhood and education (1871-1893)

Scriabin was born into an aristocratic family in Moscow on Christmas Day 1871, according to the Julian Calendar (this translates to 1872-01-06 in the Gregorian Calendar). The Scriabins had firm roots in the military; his father and all of his uncles had military careers.cite book|title=Scriabin, a Biography |first=Faubion |last=Bowers |authorlink=Faubion Bowers |year=1996 |location= New York|publisher= Dover Publications|isbn= 9780486288970|oclc= 33405309] When he was only a year old, his mother, a concert pianist, died of tuberculosis. After her death Scriabin's father completed tuition in Turkish language in St. Petersburg, subsequently becoming a diplomat and finally leaving for Turkey leaving the young infant with his grandmother, great aunt, and aunt. Scriabin's father would later re-marry giving Scriabin a number of half brothers and sisters. His aunt, Lyubov (his father's unmarried sister), was an amateur pianist who documented Sacha's (as he was known) early life up until he met his first wife. As a child we are told Scriabin was frequently exposed to piano playing and anecdotal references describe him demanding his aunt to play for him. Apparently precocious, Sacha began building pianos after finding fascination with pianistic mechanisms. Pianos he did build were often given away by him to unsuspecting house guests. Lyubov portrays Scriabin as very shy and unsociable with his peers, but appreciative of adult attention. Another Lyubov anecdote tells of Scriabin trying to conduct an orchestra comprising local children, an attempt that ended in frustration and tears. He would perform his own immature plays and operas with puppets to willing audiences. He studied the piano from an early age, taking lessons with Nikolai Zverev, a strict disciplinarian, who was teaching Sergei Rachmaninoff and a number of other prodigies at the same time, though Scriabin was not a pensionnaire like Rachmaninoff. In the footsteps of his militaristic family, he attended the 2nd Moscow Cadet Corps. As a student Scriabin made friends with the actor Leonid Limontov, although in his memoirs Limontov recalls his reluctance at making friends with Scriabin who was the smallest and weakest among all the boys and was sometimes teased because of this. However, Scriabin won his peers' recognition and approval at a concert in which he performed piano.Scriabin later studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Anton Arensky, Sergei Taneyev, and Vasily Ilyich Safonov. He became a noted pianist despite his small hands that could barely grasp a ninth. Feeling challenged by Josef Lhevinne, he seriously damaged his right hand while practicing Liszt's Don Juan Fantasy and Balakirev's Islamey.cite book| url= |pages=141|first=Percy|last=Scholes|authorlink= Percy Scholes|title=Crotchets: A Few Short Musical Notes|publisher=Books for Libraries Press|location= Freeport, NY|year=1969|origyear=1924|isbn=9780722258361|oclc=855415 ISBN is for January 2001 edition.] His doctor said he would never recover, and he wrote his first large-scale masterpiece, the F-minor sonata, as a "cry against God, against fate." In 1892, he graduated with the Little Gold Medal in piano performance, but did not complete a composition degree because of strong differences in personality and musical taste with Arensky (whose faculty signature is the only one absent from Scriabin's graduation certificate) and an unwillingness to compose pieces in forms that did not interest him. Ironically, one requirement that he did complete, an E-minor fugue, became required learning for decades at the Conservatory.Fact|date=March 2008

Career and later life (1894-1915)

In 1894, Scriabin debuted as a pianist in St. Petersburg, performing his own works to positive reviews. In the same year, Mitrofan Petrovich Belaieff agreed to pay Scriabin to compose for his publishing firm, which included other notable composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. This was followed by period of extensive touring, in Russia and abroad, culminating in a highly successful 1898 concert in Paris, where he performed with his recent wife, Vera Ivanova Isakovich. The same year he became a professor of piano at the Moscow Conservatory. In this period he composed his cycle of etudes op. 8, several sets of preludes, his first three piano sonatas, and his only piano concerto, among other works, mostly for piano.

Scriabin had several children, but eventually left his teaching position and his wife, courting Tatiana Fyodorovna Schloezer (Tatiana de Schloezer), a younger pupil. The break with Vera occurred when the composer had relocated to Switzerland. With Schloezer, he had other children, including a son named Julian who composed several sophisticated pieces before drowning in a boating accident at age 11 in 1919.Fact|date=November 2007

With the financial support of a wealthy sponsor, he spent several years traveling between Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium and America, working on more orchestral pieces, including several symphonies. He was also beginning to compose "poems" for the piano, a form with which he is particularly associated.

In 1907 he settled in Paris with his family and was involved with a series of concerts organized by the impressario Sergei Diaghilev, who was actively promoting Russian music in the West at the time.

In 1909 he returned to Russia permanently, where he continued to compose, working on increasingly grandiose projects. For some time before his death he had planned a multi-media work to be performed in the Himalayas, that would bring about the armageddon, "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." [cite web
last = Minderovic
first = Zoran
title = Alexander Scriabin
work = Biography
publisher = Allmusic
url =
accessdate = 2007-12-09
] Scriabin left only sketches for this piece, "Mysterium", although they were eventually made into a performable version by Alexander Nemtin. [cite web
last = Benson
first = Robert E.
title = Scriabin's Mysterium
work = Nuances. Preparation for The Final Mystery
publisher = Classical CD Review
month = October | year = 2000
url =
accessdate = 2007-12-09
] The "Mysterium" was, psychologically speaking, a world Scriabin’s genius created to sustain its own evolution.cite conference
first = Emanuel E.
last = Garcia, M.D.
title = Scriabin's Mysterium and the Birth of Genius
booktitle = Mid-Winter Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association
pages =
date = 2005-01-19
place = New York, New York
url =
accessdate = 2007-12-09 |format=PDF

Scriabin was small and reportedly frail, and a hypochondriac his entire life. At the age of 43, he died in Moscow from septicemia, contracted as a result of a shaving cut or a boil on his lip.


tyle and musical influences

Many of Scriabin's works are written for the piano. The earliest pieces resemble Frédéric Chopin's and include music in many forms that Chopin himself employed, such as the étude, the prelude, the nocturne, and the mazurka. Scriabin's music gradually evolved over the course of his life, although the evolution was very rapid and especially long when compared to most composers. Aside from his earliest pieces, his works are strikingly original, the mid- and late-period pieces employing very unusual harmonies and textures. The development of Scriabin's voice and style can be followed in his ten piano sonatas: the earliest are composed in a fairly conventional late-Romantic idiom and show the influence of Chopin and Franz Liszt, but the later ones move into new, original territory, the last five being written with no key signature. Many passages in them can be said to be atonal, though from 1903 through 1908, "tonal unity was almost imperceptibly replaced by harmonic unity." cite book| last = Samson| first = Jim| year = 1977| title = Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900–1920| place = New York| publisher = W. W. Norton & Company|isbn = 9780393021936|oclc= 3240273]

Aaron Copland praised Scriabin's thematic material as "truly individual, truly inspired", but criticized Scriabin for putting "this really new body of feeling into the strait-jacket of the old classical sonata-form, recapitulation and all" calling this "one of the most extraordinary mistakes in all music." [cite book |title= What to Listen for in Music|last= Copland|first= Aaron|authorlink= Aaron Copland|year= 1957|publisher= McGraw-Hill|location= New York|isbn= |oclc= 269329|pages= ] According to Samson the sonata-form of Sonata No. 5 has some meaning to the work's tonal structure, but in Sonata No. 6 and Sonata No. 7 formal tensions are created by the absence of harmonic contrast and "between the cumulative momentum of the music, usually achieved by textural rather than harmonic means, and the formal constraints of the tripartite mould." He also argues that the "Poem of Ecstasy" and "Vers la flamme" "find a much happier co-operation of 'form' and 'content'" and that later Sonatas such as Sonata No. 9 employ a more flexible sonata-form.

Philosophical influences

Scriabin was interested in Friedrich Nietzsche's übermensch theory, and later became interested in Theosophy. Both would influence his music and musical thought. In 1909–10 he lived in Brussels, becoming interested in Delville's Theosophist movement and continuing his reading of Hélène Blavatsky.

Theosophist and composer Dane Rudhyar wrote that Scriabin was "the one great pioneer of the new music of a reborn Western civilization, the father of the future musician", and an antidote to "the Latin reactionaries and their apostle, Stravinsky" and the "rule-ordained" music of "Schoenberg's group."Fact|date=November 2007 Scriabin developed his own very personal and abstract mysticism based on the role of the artist in relation to perception and life affirmation. His ideas on reality seem similar to Platonic and Aristotelian theory though much more ethereal and incoherent. The main sources of his philosophical thought can be found in his numerous unpublished notebooks, one in which he famously wrote "I am God". As well as jottings there are complex and technical diagrams explaining his metaphysics. Scriabin also used poetry as a means in which to express his philosophical notions, though arguably much of his philosophical thought was translated into music, the most recognisable example being the messianistic 7th sonata 'white mass'.

Influence of colour

Though these works are often considered to be influenced by Scriabin's synesthesia, a condition wherein one experiences sensation in one sense in response to stimulus in another, it is doubted that Alexander Scriabin actually experienced this.*Harrison, John (2001). "Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing", ISBN 0-19-263245-0: "In fact, there is considerable doubt about the legitimacy of Scriabin's claim, or rather the claims made on his behalf, as we shall discuss in Chapter 5." (p.31-2).] B. M. Galeyev and I. L. Vanechkina (August 2001). [ "Was Scriabin a Synesthete?"] , " [ Leonardo] ", Vol. 34, Issue 4, pp. 357 - 362: "authors conclude that the nature of Scriabin’s 'color-tonal' analogies was associative, i.e. psychological; accordingly, the existing belief that Scriabin was a distinctive, unique 'synesthete' who really saw the sounds of music—that is, literally had an ability for 'co-sensations'— is placed in doubt."] His colour system, unlike most synesthetic experience, lines up with the circle of fifths: it was a thought-out system based on Sir Isaac Newton's "Opticks". Note that Scriabin did not, as far as his theory is concerned, recognize a difference between a major and a minor tonality of the same name (for example: c-minor and C-Major). Indeed, influenced also by the doctrines of Theosophy, he developed his system of Synesthesia toward what would have been a pioneering multimedia performance: his unrealized magnum opus "Mysterium" was to have been a grand week-long performance including music, scent, dance, and light in the foothills of the Himalayas that was to bring about the dissolution of the world in bliss.

In his autobiographical "Recollections," Sergei Rachmaninoff recorded a conversation he had had with Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov about Scriabin's association of colour and music. Rachmaninoff was surprised to find that Rimsky-Korsakov agreed with Scriabin on associations of musical keys with colors; himself skeptical, Rachmaninoff made the obvious objection that the two composers did not always agree on the colours involved. Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue. However, Rimsky-Korsakov protested that a passage in Rachmaninoff's opera "The Miserly Knight" supported their view: the scene in which the Old Baron opens treasure chests to reveal gold and jewels glittering in torchlight is written in D major. Scriabin told Rachmaninoff that "your intuition has unconsciously followed the laws whose very existence you have tried to deny."

While Scriabin wrote only a small number of orchestral works, they are among his most famous, and some are frequently performed. They include three symphonies, a piano concerto (1896), "The Poem of Ecstasy" (1908) and (1910), which includes a part for a "clavier à lumières", also known as the "Luce" (Italian for "Light"), which was a colour organ designed specifically for the performance of Scriabin's symphony. It was played like a piano, but projected coloured light on a screen in the concert hall rather than sound. Most performances of the piece (including the premiere) have not included this light element, although a performance in New York City in 1915 projected colours onto a screen. It has erroneously been claimed that this performance used the "colour-organ" invented by English painter A. Wallace Rimington when in fact it was a novel construction personally supervised and built in New York specifically for the performance by Preston S. Miller, the president of the Illuminating Engineering Society.

Scriabin's original colour keyboard, with its associated turntable of coloured lamps, is preserved in his apartment near the Arbat in Moscow, which is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.

Performers and legacy

Scriabin's music has been performed by musicians such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Andrei Gavrilov, Ruth Laredo, Marc-André Hamelin, Evgeny Kissin, Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Pianists who have performed Scriabin to particular critical acclaim include Vladimir Sofronitsky, Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. Horowitz performed for Scriabin, in his home as an 11 year old child, and Scriabin had an enthusiastic reaction, but cautioned that he needed further training. [ YouTube - Horowitz plays Scriabin in Moscow ] ] As an elderly man, Horowitz remarked that Scriabin was obviously crazy, because he had tics and could not sit still. [ YouTube - Horowitz plays Scriabin in Moscow ] ] Despite Horowitz' assessment, Scriabin held the rapt attention of the musical world in Russia while he was alive. His funeral was attended by such numbers that tickets had to be issued. Prokofiev greatly admired the composer, and his "Visions Fugitives" bears great likeness to the Scriabinic tone and style. Another admirer was the British-Parsi composer Sorabji who strenuously collected the obscure works of Scriabin whilst living in Essex as a youth. Sorabji promoted Scriabin even during the years when Scriabin's popularity had declined massively. Scriabin's great-great grandson Elisha Abas is a concert pianist who divides his time between New York and Israel. [cite web |url=|title= Elisha Abas - the official website|accessdate=2008-04-14]


In January 1910 Scriabin played in Moscow nine of his own compositions for Welte-Mignon and his playing was transcribed on piano rolls. The results have been played back and recorded:


Asteroid 6549 Skryabin is named after the composer.Fact|date=March 2008

ee also

*Synthetic chord
*Sergei Rachmaninoff
*Igor Stravinsky
*Romantic Music
*20th century classical music


External links

* []
* [ Scriabin Society of America]
* [ "The mythical time in Scriabin"] by Lia Tomás
* [ "Was Scriabin a Synaesthete?"] by B. Galeyev & I. Vanechkina
* [ Scriabin in Aspen No.2 on UBUWEB] (A short biography by Faubion Bowers; four preludes and the tenth sonata available for download)
*musicbrainz artist|id=a4eba7b5-aceb-4acf-b297-3c0a3cd42757|name=Alexander Scriabin
* [ Aleksandr Scriabin - MIDI files]
*worldcat id|id=lccn-n80-86161


* [ Scriabin's Sheet Music] by Mutopia Project
*IckingArchive|idx=Scriabin|name=Alexander Scriabin
*KSM|Skrjabin|Alexander Scriabin

NAME = Scriabin, Alexander Nikolayevich
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Skryabin, Scriabine, Skrjabin
SHORT DESCRIPTION = pianist, composer
DATE OF BIRTH = OldStyleDateDY|6 January|1872|26 December 1871
PLACE OF BIRTH = Moscow, Russia
DATE OF DEATH = 27 April 1915
PLACE OF DEATH = Moscow, Russia

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  • Scriabin, Aleksandr — ▪ Russian composer in full  Aleksandr Nikolayevich Scriabin , Scriabin also spelled  Skriabin , or  Skryabin  born Dec. 25, 1871 [Jan. 6, 1872, New Style], Moscow, Russia died April 14 [April 27], 1915, Moscow  Russian composer of piano and… …   Universalium

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