Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Alexander Scriabin Companion: History, Performance, and Lore (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). By Lincoln Ballard and Matthew Bengtson, with John Bell Young.

Critics, scholars, and students who seek reliable information about Scriabin have long contended with journalistic exposés and outdated publications that can be more anecdotal than factual, most notably the two books by Faubion Bowers. On the other hand, a wealth of academic studies tackle more complex issues of performance practice, theoretical analysis, and stylistic influence, but can overwhelm readers with their technical jargon and dense writing style. These writings also remain largely inaccessible those who lack subscriptions to such databases as JSTOR and Project MUSE. A century’s worth of Scriabin scholarship is now collated and clearly organised in a new book that bridges the divide between popular and scholarly writings, and presents a unique collaboration between a historian and a performer: The Alexander Scriabin Companion: History, Performance, and Lore.

Co-written by a musicologist (Ballard) and a performer/scholar (Bengtson), this interdisciplinary study adds to a growing body of companion-titled books on classical composers that have appeared since the early 2000s.[1] The Scriabin Companion corrects many of the myths and misconceptions that have enveloped the composer’s music for over a century. It offers new information on Scriabin’s critical reception and the interpretation of his music at the piano, and provides a modern and comprehensive account of his legacy. The book does not assume any familiarity with music theory or critical theory. It is written in an accessible style that will appeal to readers who are just discovering Scriabin’s music for the first time, and those whose knowledge of his life and music runs deep.

The book opens with a foreword by the English pianist Stephen Hough and an introductory chapter written by the late American pianist and critic John Bell Young (1953-2017). Part I, written by Ballard, introduces readers to Scriabin’s biography and cultural background as well as his musical and philosophical influences. Brief synopses of his major works for solo piano and for orchestra supply readers with essential historical background and performance histories for each work. High quality recordings are recommended for each piece, including historical recordings and recent releases. Part I also documents the great pianists and conductors who championed Scriabin’s music, many of whom built their careers on this repertoire. Part II, also written by Ballard, discusses four major topics in Scriabin’s reception history: the myths and fallacies that originated with his biographers; the composer’s claims to synaesthesia or “colour-hearing”; the major revival of interest in his music during the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially among the American counterculture; and the charges of anti-Russianness that have been levelled against his music. Part III was written by Bengtson, Assistant Professor of Piano Literature at the University of Michigan, and a specialist in Scriabin’s music. His six chapters explore stylistic issues in Scriabin’s piano music, and offer analytical observations as well as interpretive and technical strategies for performing his works. Bengtson breaks down Scriabin’s style into its core elements (harmony, melody, rhythm, sound, and technique) in an effort to help pianists of all skill levels more clearly communicate the composer’s music and message.

The Alexander Scriabin Companion aspires to be the authoritative modern source for anyone who is interested in learning about this composer’s life, legacy, and music. It broadens our understanding of early twentieth-century Russian style by identifying some of its key stylistic markers, and Scriabin’s unique thumbprint in particular. The book presents a fresh perspective on some of the most heavily discussed topics in the Scriabin literature, and its extensive citations offer ample avenues of research for the next generation of scholars. Armed with these materials, readers will be able to better appreciate the stylistic innovations and colourful imagination of this extraordinary composer. Scriabin Association members can use the discount code “RLFANDF30” to purchase The Alexander Scriabin Companion for $30 off the listed price of $100. Please place your order today at:

A video introducing the book can be viewed here.

[1] Examples include The Mahler Companion, ed. Donald Mitchell and Andrew Nicholson (Oxford University Press, 2002); The Liszt Companion, by Ben Arnold (Greenwood Press, 2002); The Szymanowski Companion, by Paul Cadrin and Stephen C. Downes (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015), as well as a series of music-related titles published in recent years by Cambridge University Press.

For a review of the book from the Scriabin Association please click here.