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Yulii Engel Biography of Scriabin Chapter V

[44]V. Years of professorship (1898–1904)            

External circumstances of Scriabin’s life – Scriabin as professor – His lack of inclination to a pedagogical vocation – Negative and positive sides of his teaching – What he taught in class and how he taught it –  Creative activity –  The First Symphony – how it was written – its first  performance –  first symphonic concert of Scriabin’s works – Scriabin’s philosophical interests – his reading – a Nietzschean opera – Scriabin’s philosophical position –  Prince Sergei Trubetskoy and his circle – Scriabin’s musical sympathies and antipathies (Wagner and others) – The Second Symphony –  its first performance – Vsevolod Buyukli and Scriabin – new plans – a tide of creativity (opp. 30–40) –  Margarita Morozova –Departure from Moscow.

After taking up his professorship, Scriabin moved from a miserable little flat (somewhere behind the Ekaterininskaya Institute), where they had settled after Maidanovo, to a better one, closer to the Conservatoire (Rozhdestvenka, Varsonof’evskii pereulok.) [1]

During the following year (1898–99) the Scriabins lived on the Prechistenka, in Obukhovskii pereulok, where their second daughter was born.[2]

After this they moved to the Grish house, now [1915] the Titov[3] (at the corner of Khlebny and Merzlyakovsky pereulki) where they lived from 1899 until the time of their departure from the country. Here were born the third child (a little girl) and the fourth (a little boy).[4]

Vera Ivanovna always tried as far as possible to provide a household for Alexander Nikolaevich which was suitable for work and for general domestic comfort. He had a separate, comfortable workroom, where no-one else was admitted. The children were kept a little farther off so as not to disturb him with their noise; Vera Ivanovna herself almost stopped playing, never played at all in front of him, and so on. And yet Scriabin was not a great homebody; he worked at night, and as before loved to sit up late somewhere in cheerful company with a glass of wine holding lively conversations.

But at home, too, he eagerly talked of everything that happened to him; and at home he was always kind and well-intentioned, as everywhere; also expansive and excited; moreover, he would constantly jump up from his seat – even at dinner (which did not prevent him from having a magnificent appetite) – and he was full of the joy of life, mischievous, and sweet-natured, delicate, incapable of anything abrupt or shocking.

Here is Margarita Kirillovna Morozova’s[5] description of Scriabin at that time and also a little earlier:

Alexander Nikolaevich was very expansive; he loved to sit up late, have a talk and revealed everything eagerly. He was ready to give his art to all who asked him – even before the piece in question was published. Nervousness was combined in him with simplicity, kindness, with an enchanting revelation of something child-like, without self-interest. It was impossible to  be angry with him. This was a fluttering spirit, with a vivid feeling for the world, [45] for whom life was a delightful game. A winged spirit. A singer of youth.  A combination of dreaminess and meditation with eroticism – but a pure eroticism. It seemed there was nothing of the titan about him; rather, he produced the impression of a simple, good-natured Russian nature. But he loved the titanic illusion.

‘More of an elf than a titan’ is a characterisation of Skryabin at that time by another of his female students.

Scriabin took up the position as professor at the Conservatoire without particular enthusiasm. His creative instincts were always exclusively dominant to such an extent that there was no room left for an inclination towards teaching. It is true that he had students, male and female, before becoming a professor, and not from need, with which he was not acquainted, as was related earlier. But there were very few of these pupils, and he worked with each one, for the most part, because of special circumstances of one kind or another: the pressing request of a friend, and such things. Amongst the pre-conservatoire pupils of Scriabin Margarita Kirillovna Morozova,[6] Mariya Mamontova[7] may be mentioned.

If Scriabin did not love teaching in general, then it is all the more appropriate to speak of his teaching at the conservatoire – ‘wholesale’, so to speak. For a fruitful arrangement in such ‘mass’ teaching not only a certain ‘method’ is necessary, but also pedagogical consistency and firmness; this is based on experience, of which Scriabin, of course, possessed very little and which was not at all in his character. Besides, the professorship took him away from his composition, and this further increased his dissatisfaction with the lessons; they oppressed him, delayed him and so on.

In such circumstances it would be difficult to expect that Scriabin would become a ‘genuine professor’, i.e. a professor of the kind who is able to obtain from each pupil the greatest possible success of which they are capable. During the majority of lessons an expression of excruciating boredom was engraved upon his face.

It livened up all the more when Scriabin found a responsiveness among the pupils to his artistic ideas and tendencies. At first there were very few such students, but their number, though feeble, nonetheless increased. (Others, by contrast, left Scriabin’s class completely).  And for such pupils Scriabin was capable of being a fascinating professor, despite the weakness in ‘system’, consistency and the rest.[8]

He taught his own works to the participants very rarely and only at their insistence. He set Chopin and Liszt above all as repertoire, but also [46] Schumann (for example, Kreisleriana), fugues by Bach, sonatas by Beethoven, the same composer’s G major concerto, Grieg (the concerto, Improvisations [on two Norwegian Folk-Songs, op. 29]), Tchaikovsky (B flat minor concerto) and others. In performance Scriabin demanded above all soul, nervous exaltation. Even the technique which he impressed upon his pupils may be named in many respects a technique of the nerves.[9] He also demonstrated this at the piano, when teaching the method of his incomparable touch.

Sometimes – but only sometimes – he was not averse to ‘programmatic’ commentaries to favourite pieces of music. For example, on the subject of the C sharp minor study of Chopin [op. 25 no. 7] he drew the following picture: ‘Evening; someone is alone in a room, sorrowing. The window has swung open and the wonderful summer night air begins to waft in (B major – here, a different touch, different pedalling, everything altered). And once again the previous sorrow (C sharp minor).’

It sometimes happened that he would play the same piece once in a particular way and the second time quite differently. It may be that he modernised Bach and Beethoven, but he inspired a new kind of love for them.

When Scriabin was commenting on Beethoven – narrates one of his pupils (Margarita Morozova) – he involuntarily coloured Beethoven so much with his own individuality that it was somehow this which showed in the foreground. Here we see a difference between Scriabin and, for example, another remarkable composer–teacher, Nikolai Medtner. When Medtner comments on Beethoven, he remains somewhere in the background, and Beethoven is in the foreground and everywhere.

‘No passages! Everything must live!’ Scriabin would demand in the lessons. ‘A passage may even be blurred, but if it is finished brilliantly we get an impression of cleanness, of brilliance!’ ‘As if in one breath!’ ‘Take no notice of criticism. Let it not exist for you, and do what you need to.’

‘Art must transform life’, he also stated. ‘Ravishment above all!’ ‘Let it be exalted, not commonplace!’ ‘Spurs! Spurs!’ ‘Il faut se griser!’ [‘You must become intoxicated!’] ‘Fear the superficiality of life!’ ‘The atmosphere of art is above all!’

In so many of all these aphorisms of the professorial Scriabin of those days one already senses the future singer of intoxicated ecstasies![10]

And the atmosphere in ‘consecrated’ lessons, if Scriabin were only satisfied, was genuinely elevated; a flame of love had been lit in hearts for music, for art.  Conversations about art and about new forms sometimes transitioned into dreams of a new, beautiful life. ‘I remember’ – recounts one student – ‘rain, mud, and us not noticing as we passed in procession across all the avenues, talking all the time…’

Scriabin gave up the professorship in 1903, before travelling abroad, and never returned to it.

Scriabin’s creative activity continued along with his professorship. He snatched time for it even during the academic year, but he was especially ardently attached to it in the summer.

[47]He kept small notebooks in which he wrote down ideas and sketches. He very much loved to show and play work to other people, even when it was not yet fully ready. He often eagerly corrected and altered what he had written – not always for the better. For example, the Polonaise in B flat minor in its present condition is unrecognizable in comparison with the first version.[11] Scriabin wrote a good deal at night, in hours of sleeplessness. If he had to hurry for a deadline he wrote day and night.

The Nine Mazurkas op. 25 were written in the first year of the professorship. Scriabin showed some of them to Lev Konyus [Conus][12] as sketches and later in their completed form. Usually, though, Scriabin did not make sketches for piano pieces, especially short ones.[13] He played the compositions to other people in the most varied stages of composition; but he put them down on paper when they were almost completely finished. And then, only just ready, he sent them off to be printed.

After the third piano sonata appeared the ‘Rêverie’ – Scriabin’s first work for orchestra, apart from the orchestral accompaniment to the piano concerto. This ‘Rêverie’ was first performed on March 12 1899, in the eighth symphonic symposium of the I. R.M. O.[14] under Safonov’s direction. It had a great success and was repeated.

The first symphony of Scriabin was performed for the first time two years later, also under Safonov’s direction.[15]

It was written in the summer of 1900, in a village where the Scriabins were living at that time in a dacha.[16] Like the majority of composers, Scriabin usually thought his latest composition the best of all and loved it more than anything else, but the First Symphony especially delighted him as the first of his children in this category. Konyus relates that Scriabin did not part with the score even at night and took it to bed with him. After writing a few bars he hastened to share them, which was his usual habit (even at a later time, but not to the same extent.) Piano sketches were written for the symphony; later he did not do this.[17]

Safonov was in ecstasies with the symphony. ‘Dear Alexander Nikolaevich’, he wrote to Scriabin – ‘I cannot express to you how delighted I am with your new symphony, but at the same time extremely distressed by the unsuccessful scoring. Prepare your wonderful creation for performance by the autumn.’

The first performance of the symphony took place on March 16 1901; performing were Vera Petrova,[18] A. M. Shubin and the combined choirs of the Conservatoire and the [48]Russian Choral Society. Safonov put magnificent effort and dedication into performing the Symphony, but its success was modest: the composer was called out only once.

The press mentioned the symphony as a significant phenomenon. The ‘Russkie Vedomosti’

[Russian Gazette] (this was my own review), after a detailed analysis of the symphony in which the weak aspects of the finale were indicated, named it ‘a large-scale, outstanding phenomenon in contemporary Russian musical life’ which showed that ‘Scriabin, who has up to now been regarded as capable of writing only for the piano, is a master of the orchestra.’

In the ‘Moscow Vedomosti’, where N. D. Kashkin, a leading critic at that time, was working, a preparatory article appeared before the concert which was very sympathetic to Scriabin and to his symphony. The article which appeared after the concert, though, was cold; in it there were indications of ‘a monotony of mood through all the movements of the symphony’ and of the composer’s having ‘created his music, as it were, externally to any conception of the orchestra’. An impression was given that immediate proximity and hearing the real sounds of the symphony had seriously disappointed the critic.

This last had an extremely irritating effect on Scriabin. Striking himself on the chest, he exclaimed with emotion: ‘All right! As long as I have health, I will turn up! I am still able, what can one say!’[19]

He considered himself to have been called to achieve something great in art – it is a witness to this scene who says so – and for that reason could not bear it when people belittled his significance in comparison with other composers. He attacked these ‘others’, when they attacked him with such a comparison, and defended them when they gave him his due.

A year later (March 5, 1902) the first ‘symphonic’ concert exclusively of Scriabin’s works was given in the Great Hall of the Noble Assembly [now known as the House of Unions]. This concert was arranged with material help from and on the initiative of Scriabin’s old friends, the Monighettis.[20] Safonov conducted. The programme contained piano pieces, as well as the Rêverie and the First Symphony: the Third Sonata, preludes, mazurkas, the polonaise. The concert went off well.

The concert programme contained, among other things, the portrait of the principal concert-giver [Scriabin himself]. Nowadays that would not attract attention, for it has become customary. In those more modest times, though, it was noticed, for only the portraits of  the famous composers of history were usually printed. If the composer was living it was done only in connection with some special event – an anniversary or some such thing.

The First Symphony finishes, as is well known, with a vocal finale to verses by Scriabin himself. The thought behind this poetry, which is far from being perfect (on the transformation of art into a religion) is of especial interest, [49] if it is considered as the first seed of that evolutionary process which later brought Scriabin to the fantastical dream of the Mystery,  a glimpse of the  world-wide transformation of religion into art.[21]

In this way, we meet attempts, as early as the First Symphony, to introduce a purely ideational foundation below the musical structure, we meet that striving to connect notes with thought, music with philosophy and religion, which becomes more characteristic of Scriabin’s work as it proceeds. When and how were these ideas born in him and, in general, this ‘supra-musical’ wide-ranging flight of thought?

An interest in broad, generalising philosophic ideas had dwelled within Scriabin since youth, but in general his efforts were directed more towards the intensification and concentration of his own impressionable, wandering thought than to work on mastering what others had already devised. Even as an adult Scriabin never loved to work in depth on a book, to ‘study.’ He only needed a hint, a remark either from conversation or from a page in a book into which he was looking, and he would already have caught the essence of the thought (details did not interest him) and developed it further in his own way, which sometimes led to his ascribing his own thoughts to others, and those of strangers to himself. Working on someone else’s thought, he either assimilated it to himself or utterly rejected it; the thought process itself, as such, interested him but little.

In the last years of his professorship Scriabin passionately loved the Nietzsche’s ‘superman’. ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra’ would often be heard from his lips. In this period an opera was conceived, and even created in part, in which the hero – somewhat of the Nietzschean type – was to be a creative artist who elevated himself above the world. The plan of this opera gradually changed and expanded – Scriabin could not keep himself within limits. For this reason it remained unfinished.

‘In January 1902’ – recounts E. K. Rozenov[22] – ‘in the Grish house, Scriabin read to me the libretto, which he had written himself himself, of this ‘philosophical opera’, as he called it. I don’t remember details, but I do remember that in the first act the poet-hero stays in his workroom, and before him parades a series of visions which  express the ideals of a Scriabinian-Nietzschean worldview.[23] Then some sort of persecutions by fate, the prose of life, almost a prison…In general, bombast and high pathos, but a total absence of action and dramatic plot. All the characters were not living people, but philosophical abstractions.’[24]

[50]Boris de Schloezer, who came to know Scriabin in 1902 (and always remained his friend from that time on) recounts the following about this opera:

In the autumn of 1902 Scriabin was working on his Symphony No. 3, but he was already    looking forward and all his thoughts were turned to the future Mystery. It is true that the Word ‘Mystery’ was not used, there was only an ‘Opera’ for which a title had not yet been found.[25]

Yet, all the same, I consider that this ‘Opera’ was already the seed out of which the Mystery later appeared. It was to have established in reality that unity of which he dreamed. The   thought of unity – social, religious, philosophic – was then at the centre of his thinking already. I remember that one of our first conversations turned on exactly this topic. But at that time he understood unity only through a few exterior symbols, such as association, union, the destruction of contradictions and differences, and not in a mystical sense.’

The growing friendship between Scriabin and Sergei Trubetskoy and his circle (around 1900) did a great deal to facilitate the composer’s philosophical development. The late philosopher and his wife were both ardent devotees of Scriabin’s music (Trubetskoy had already written a warm article about Scriabin in the Courier).[26] In his turn Scriabin was also very fond of him. ‘This is the best family in the world,’ he would say. Trubetskoy introduced Scriabin into the Philosophical Society, whose meetings Scriabin assiduously attended at one period, though he stopped later. Among the works which Scriabin read at that period, Boris de Schloezer names The Theory of the Logos by Prince Sergei Trubetskoy and Goethe’s Faust, which was always on his table.

Trubetskoy’s theoretical and moral philosophy was, one might say, the development of a single idea: ‘God is Love.’ Like his teacher Solovyov, Trubetskoy, as defined by Lev Lopatin, [27] fought for a world-view that seeks the foundation of all existence in the spirit, asserts the absolute value of the human personality, sinks its roots [51] into religion – in a word, for a spiritual world-view, opposed to a realistic, naturalistic world-view which excludes creation and freedom and is in the last analysis amoral. Sergei Kotlyarevsky[28] adds:  ‘Trubetskoy’s teaching was concrete idealism, opposed to abstract rationalism and to that fear of reason which sometimes may be observed in people who are inclined to mysticism. The range of his intellectual interests was extremely wide, and his honesty in research was striking. And all this was combined with an unusual aesthetic receptivity.  But his religion was his priority. He was a person of deep faith, fearing no temptation, but knowing where the area of faith begins: this is a question of the divine personality of Christ. Christianity to him was an assertion in reality of the Good.’

According to Schloezer, Scriabin was a close friend of Trubetskoy, and loved, valued and respected him greatly, but one cannot speak of any sort of influence on him of Trubetskoy or of the Trubetskoy circle.[29]  Scriabin’s philosophical poetry of the years 1902–3 (marked by individualism, phenomenalism and subjectivism) was too foreign to Prince Trubetskoy, who was a student and follower of Vladimir Solovyov. At that period Scriabin did not have a particularly high opinion of Solovyov; only later did he admit that he had been in error.

From the musical point of view, the years of 1900–1902 were the time of Scriabin’s greatest enthusiasm for Wagner.

I remember one conversation with Scriabin from this period. We met by chance on the street where the new university building was being constructed at that time, on the Bolshaya Nikitskaya. The street was slushy; drizzle was falling. After talking for half an hour on that spot, we then walked together for a good hour, in the rain, as usual discussing the most various subjects but mainly Wagner. Scriabin rejected Tchaikovsky, finding him too everyday. ‘Everyone has to get through Beethoven’, he said, but he had already become tired of a great deal of Beethoven. ‘It’s only Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that I can listen to’. (Later, even the Fifth ceased to be music as far as he was concerned.)  He was enthusiastic about Chopin, Liszt, and Wagner, whose scores he studied thoroughly and evidently knew.

But, while being ecstatic about Wagner (especially the grandeur of his conception) he harshly criticised him for overloading his operas with subject-matter, for his frequent mixing of the important and the secondary and, in connection with this, his insufficient command of form.

We talked also of Richard Strauss. In Moscow at that time his symphonic poems were beginning to be performed, works which had caused lively arguments in the world [52] of music. These arguments also went on in the ‘Rubinstein circle’, which had been formed on the initiative of Taneyev in Rubinstein’s memory and met for ‘musical dinners’ (in the Hermitage and Prague restaurants[30] and elsewhere.) Scriabin also attended these dinners, though rarely. Taneyev was an unconditional, vehement opponent of Strauss, though Strauss had many enthusiastic defenders. As far as I remember, Scriabin rejected Strauss, though he acknowledged that some of his methods of orchestration were of interest.

All of this, and mainly the enthusiasm for Wagner, was reflected in the first movement of the Second Symphony, in which an attempt is made everywhere to treat only thematic material in the counterpoint (which is very dense in comparison with the First).

‘In January 1902’, relates Rozenov, ‘Scriabin played the first movement of the Second Symphony to me; he was especially proud of the beginning of the development, where the six motives heard in the exposition are combined. I began to reproach him with his enthusiasm for a ‘combinatory’ style of writing under the influence of Richard Strauss which he himself had previously criticised. But Scriabin, as he played various thematic combinations, maintained that they could all be heard, and that this was not a ‘combination’ but had been the very thing he had aimed at.’

The second symphony was performed for the first time on March 21 1903, in the tenth symphonic gathering of the I.R.M.O.,[31](in the Great Hall of the Conservatoire.) Yevgenii Gunst, in his book about Scriabin, recounts this performance as follows:

In rehearsals the orchestra, already in a hostile mood, refused to play this work.

The behaviour of the orchestra members was extremely provocative. The composer did not feel guaranteed against any kind of the crudest excesses on their part. But this was still just a preliminary blossom; the berries came out at the actual concert. The symphony proceeded amongst deafening whistles, noise and hissing from the numerous listeners… The symphony, evidently, seemed to the listeners to be such an unusual work, a novelty perhaps so bold, perhaps bordering on insanity, daringly contradicting all of their routine conventions, that they could not refrain from shouting, could not restrain the flows of indignation which burst like lava from a fire-breathing volcano.

I was present at that historic concert and, on the basis of personal reminiscences and from reports of the time, must declare that things did not proceed in that way. There was absolute silence in the room while the symphony was being played; no whistling, noise, indignant shouts or the like. Only at the conclusion of the symphony, after a part of the audience had started to applaud and call out the composer (they called him twice), were protests (hisses) heard from another part of the audience against these calls. But this ‘other part’ was, by comparison with the first part, very much smaller – essentially it consisted of isolated individuals, [53] who nonetheless hissed each time the composer was called. In any case there was nothing resembling ‘fiery lava’ or anything similar.

That was at the concert. It is only possible to speculate about what went on at the rehearsals before the concert, but there is no doubt that here too Gunst has intensified the colouring just as much. At any rate, I heard nothing of the possibility of ‘the crudest excesses’ on the orchestra’s part. I persistently questioned the players on the subject of the rehearsals, though, as I could not attend myself, owing to the obstacles created by Safonov.

In consequence of the impossibility of attending the rehearsals, I was obliged as a critic to judge a new, unknown complex symphonic work after hearing it just once. Neither could I obtain a copy of the score (it was not in the shops), in order to get to know the work ahead of time by reading it; I complained of this among other things in my report on the concert.[32]

On the very next day, as if in answer to my complaint, I received the score of the Second Symphony via a messenger. It turned out later that it had been sent by Vsevolod Buyukli.

In those years (1900–1903) he was a close friend of Scriabin, who valued Buyukli very highly at that time. ‘This is one of the greatest pianists’, Scriabin would say of him. And, truth to tell, there was in this pianist something striking, magnificent, despite all his strangeness. He played certain works of Scriabin with unusual strength and elation, unlike anyone else (the etude in D sharp minor, the Third Sonata, which was at that time the latest one, etc.) At one time Buyukli and Scriabin had a close mutual [54] friendship.[33] Sometimes they even played together on two pianos, for example a concerto by Liszt which Scriabin was enthusiastic about at that time. [34]

It is interesting that in Liszt Scriabin valued highly not so much the composer (apart from the Mephisto Waltz and the sonata) as the ideal type of the artist in the broadest and most generous meaning of the word.  This essential feature of Liszt also captivated Scriabin because in him there lived the clearest consciousness of the mission of a genuine artist in the world.

At the end of the academic year 1902–1903 Scriabin finally left the Conservatoire; his professorship there always weighed upon him. He also gave up the post of Director of the Ekaterininskaya Institute which he occupied from 1903 to 1904. He also refused the offer of becoming a professor at the Vienna Conservatoire which was made to him in 1903, when it became known that he was leaving Moscow Conservatoire.

Broad, bold compositional plans were maturing within him (work had already begun on the Divine Poem, the ‘opera’ had been conceived – the seed of the future Mystery and of many other things.) He passionately wished to give up everything peripheral, to travel somewhere distant, to Switzerland, and to give himself up wholly to composition in freedom; at that time the creative urge was struggling within Scriabin with uncommon, tempestuous strength.

On July 21 1903 (the Scriabins were then living along the Moscow-Briansk railway line, at a distance of 105 versts [about 70 miles]), Scriabin wrote to Boris de Schloezer:

I am literally submerged in work: I am orchestrating a symphony,[35] composing piano pieces, on the other hand the opera libretto is progressing slowly and I am working only a little at philosophy: I have only read Überweg.[36] I absolutely must finish thirty opuses in August, otherwise my journey to Switzerland won’t take place, and it is only of that that I think!

Two and a half months later, on September 6 1903, Scriabin wrote again to Schloezer:

I haven’t written to you recently, as I thought to fix the date of my journey abroad, if only approximately, and that absolutely must happen! But when?! I’m working a great deal, exclusively at music, i.e. I am gradually getting my many pieces into order.  Maybe I will [55] finish in a month… I am in such a murderous  mood as never before, it seems! I am selling myself for the smallest piece of coin, forcing my imagination and all for filthy l.[37]  But it’s not worthwhile!

Scriabin managed to finish his ‘thirty works’ in the same year; but even with the ‘filthy lucre’ received for them plus the considerable sum of 1500 rubles, received in 1903 in the form of a prize from Belyayev, it was difficult to effect the change in the whole pattern of life of which Scriabin dreamed. Can a family of six (the fourth child, a little boy, was born in 1902) live without a definite, regular income![38]

But at that point Margarita Morozova, Scriabin’s friend and pupil of long standing, came to his aid. She proposed to pay him a yearly pension of 2400 rubles until better days arrived. Together with what he could obtain for his compositions, this pension already gave hope of putting together a more or less hopeful life abroad. Scriabin accepted the proposal with gratitude.

The last difficulty was removed, and on February 29 1904 he travelled abroad together with his family.

[1] This flat was in the Ostozhenka, according to Skryabinskii Arbat: putevoditel’. Moscow: Scriabin Memorial Museum, 2005. P.7 The female ending of a street name (Prechistenka) shows that this is indeed a street (ulitsa); pereulok (pl.ulki) is a side street.

[2] Elena (1900–1990, married Vladimir Sofronitsky in 1920).

[3] These names were those of the owners of the buildings. No. 1, Khlebnyi pereulok is the modern address. Skriabinskii Arbat p. 7.

[4] Mariya (1901–1989, actress), Lev (1902–10).

[5] 1873–1958. Society beauty and patron of the arts; patron and pupil of Scriabin. Widow of the entrepreneur and collector Mikhail Morozov.

[6] n.7.

[7] Daughter of the railway and property entrepreneur and founder of the Abramtsevo artistic colony, Savva Mamontov. Scriabin mentions her in a letter to Nataliya Sekerina, June 1892, as ‘even lazier than in the winter.’

[8] One professionally competent close friend of Scriabin who attended a rehearsal by the latter’s pupils even spoke directly of unrhythmic performances. Y.E.

[9] A phrase taken up by Sabaneev in his Skryabin (Moscow, Scorpion 1916).

[10] In her biography, Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin, Moscow, Muzyka, 1989, 127-128, Valentina Rubtsova points out Scriabin’s revolutionary move from the traditional Conservatoire repertoire, which consisted of numerous exercises, etudes and standard classics, to repertoire of high artistic value which was chosen to suit the individual student’s level. We might add that the advice Scriabin is reported as giving is very far from being traditionally academic.

[11] It is difficult to specify what Engel’ means here; but the Polonaise is, arguably, over-inflated and stuffed with technical difficulties.

[12] L. E. Konyus (we find the name as ‘Conus’ on old Belaieff editions) already knew Scriabin at the Conservatoire, but became closely associated with him after his marriage; their wives, Nadezhda Afanaseva Mirotvortseva and Vera Ivanovna Isakovich, were close friends while at the conservatoire. Konyus and Scriabin often met; they had endless conversations, mostly about music. Y. E. [Lev Eduardovich Konyus, 1871–1944, was born in Moscow and died in Cincinatti. He studied piano with Pabst and composition with Arensky. He was a friend also of Medtner and Rachmaninov. N. A. Mirotvortseva, his wife, lived until 1954. She married Sergei Shchukin later in life.]

[13] The Mazurkas of op. 25 show very considerable contrapuntal development and strong, long-term progressions which are often structural. It is possible that these developments prompted Scriabin’s making of sketches.

[14] Or R. M.O. (Russian Musical Society). Cf. Perepiska A. N. Skyabina i M. P. Beliaieva: 1894-1903.Petrograd: Filarmoniya, 1922. Ed. Viktor Beliaiev. p. 130. The ‘Rêverie’ had previously been performed in St. Petersburg

on Dec. 5, 1898, conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov. Cf. A. N. Skryabin. 2nd ed. Moscow, Muzyka, 1980. E. N. Rudakova, comp., A. N. Kandinsky, ed. p. 67.

[15] This was the first Moscow performance (March 1901). The Petersburg premiere, under Lyadov, was a few months earlier (November 1900). Rudova/Kandinsky, p. 69–70.

[16] It was in May 1899 that Scriabin took a dacha near Podolsk. On June 18 he wrote to Belyayev that he was busy with a big work for orchestra. He played the first symphony on the piano at Goldenweiser’s apartment on December 22. Cf. Letopis’ zhizni i tvorchestva A. N. Scriabina  p. 93-95.

[17] In his monograph Skryabin of 1916 (209­­–210) Leonid Sabaneyev describes Scriabin as a ‘false’ symphonist, saying that there was no genuinely ‘symphonic centre’ to his orchestral works, which were conceived at the piano. Engel’’s statement might indicate that in the initial stages there may have been some substance to this typically categorical statement, but it should also be pointed out that in the very opening of the First Symphony the orchestral colouring is exquisite.

[18] She usually performed under her married name, Petrova-Zvantseva. A recording from about 1910 can be heard on YouTube, of ‘Les tringles des sistres tintaient’ from Carmen. Her fine mezzo range is heard on the record; it would have been ideally suited to the first entry in the finale of the First Symphony. 

[19] In other words, Scriabin was signalling a willingness to fight a duel.

[20] Vladimir Ivanovich Monighetti was the Scriabins’ family doctor. Scriabin wrote to him in intimate terms, ‘dear friend’, as a letter of 1898 (Pis’ma p.41) shows. His sisters Olga and Zinaida were companions of Scriabin’s youth for twenty years (op. cit., 652).

[21] Scriabin may have developed this idea from Wagner’s essay ‘The Art-work of the Future’, which he possessed. Information from research in the Scriabin Museum archive by Dr. Lindsey Macchiarella (UTEP).

[22] Chapter 2, n. 19.

[23] This scene has not come down to us in the remaining manuscript. Perhaps it was rejected by Scriabin as reflecting too clearly the first scene, ‘Nacht’, of Faust Part 1, in which the Earth Spirit appears to Faust.

[24] ‘All this’ – Rozenov continues – ‘I said to Scriabin at the time, after which he grew noticeably cooler to me. And, as at that time I was living in the country and he was often travelling abroad, our previous close friendship came to an end after a single exchange of letters (I from the country, he from Switzerland). In his short letter he informed me that he was writing his fourth sonata and that he did not understand how it was possible to live in Russia when there were such marvellous places as Switzerland. This was in answer to my letter in which I described to him early spring in the district of Kursk, the choirs of nightingales and suchlike, and expressed surprise that no-one had tried to describe Spring, directly ‘from Nature’, in notes. After this I was pleased to discover try-outs of this way of writing in the first movement of the Fourth Sonata and the Third Symphony.’

  1. E. [No letter to Rozanov is published in Pis’ma.]

[25] ‘I want so much to compose an opera!’ exclaimed Scriabin in a letter to Boris de Schloezer of Sept. 6  1903. Y.E.[Pis’ma. p.290–291.]

[26] In this article, which relates to about 1900, [18th March 1899] Prince Trubetskoy wrote: ‘In the outstanding etudes and  preludes of Scriabin, in his two most recent sonatas we have large-scale works of art, full of independence in the harmony, which is always refined and meaningful, in the depth of development of musical thoughts and by its lyricism, unusually individual and refined… Scriabin is the first individual Russian composer to have mastered a pianoforte style which corresponds so well to the generally purely lyrical mood of his music.’ Y.E.

[27] Lev Mikhailovich Lopatin (1855-1920) Philosopher, acquaintance of Solovyov. In the year after the publishing of the present biography he published a major article on Solovyov in the journal Thought. Engel’ may have seen a draft or discussed the subject with Lopatin in person.

[28]  Sergei Andreyevich Kotlyarevsky (1873 –1939).  Writer and expert in history, law and politics.

[29] Can it really be possible to endorse such a rejection of ‘any sort of influence’ on Scriabin of a person with whom he was closely acquainted for so many years, whom he loved, respected, whose book he read, whom he often eagerly visited! Y. E.

[30] The Prague Restaurant still exists on Arbat Square. The ‘Hermitage’ ceased trading in 1917. The building is now the Moscow School of Modern Drama, on Trubnaya Square.

[31] See n. 14.

[32] In this review I spoke of the symphony as follows (in part): ‘From the musical point of view Mr. Scriabin, more than anyone else in Russia, may be named as a Wagnerian of the purest water…the tense, dissonant chromatic harmony, the nervous, syncopated rhythm; the fitful, exclamatory melody; the weighty, massive orchestration – there we have Scriabin’s favourite musical language. The composer not infrequently overindulges in all of these. One cannot deny that the dissonances and the massive sonorities (which explain to some extent the hostile attitude to the symphony of some of the public) have strength, originality and very often beauty as well.’

Sergei Kruglikov [1851–1910; pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov and teacher of Kallinikov; noted for his elegant literary style, a supporter of the ‘Five’ and musical consultant to Sergei Mamontov’s private opera, where works of the ‘nationalist’ tendency were performed under his influence: Glinka, Dargomizhsky, ‘the Five’] – Kruglikov wrote, in part, the following in the Novosti Dnya [‘News of the Day’] about the symphony: ‘In Scriabin we sometimes find a general wash of harmonic urgency and unexpected banality…; in places, beauty of the first class. With his wanderings, lacking a clearly worked-out plan, his dissonances, piled one on top of the other, his monotonously thick and exclamatory orchestration, Scriabin is sometimes so exhausting that one is involuntarily glad when he brings in something with a sharply defined rhythmic quality such as the martial finale of the Second Symphony.’ Y.E.

[33] Later they separated. One reason for the cooling-off was a number of misunderstandings caused by Buyukli’s persistent desire to play the Third Sonata of Scriabin in one of the latter’s own Moscow concerts, the remainder of the programme being played by Scriabin. The composer of the Third Sonata did not agree to this

and played the whole recital himself. Buyukli, whose high opinion of himself was perhaps no less than Scriabin’s own, stated during this argument: ‘If it pleases you, give me half the world! You and I must share it.’ ‘Take the lot’ – replied Scriabin – ‘if it suits you’. Y. E.

[34] In 1890-91 Scriabin is reported to have played the First Concerto several times. Letopis’ p.30–33.

[35] This was to be the Divine Poem. Y. E.

[36] A reference to Friedrich Überweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie der Neuzeit [‘Foundations of the History of Philosophy in the Modern Period’]. This substantial volume contains perhaps the clearest possible presentation of the philosophy of Fichte which was to become so important to Scriabin.

[37] Scriabin began to write ‘filthy lucre’ but crossed it out. This self-flagellation on Scriabin’s part can only be explained by the particular mood of the moment. In fact, he loved the works produced at that time (the opuses in the 30s) as others have since that time. And if we remember which music is being discussed we can only laugh at Scriabin’s words. The ‘smallest piece of coin’ and ‘forcing the imagination’ refer to such diamonds of the purest water as the  Fourth Sonata, the two Poèmes op. 32, the Poème Tragique op. 34, some of the etudes op. 42 and others. Y. E.

[38]  Giving concerts was also terribly burdensome to him at that period. To the conviction of his close friends that ‘he must himself give a commentary on his own works’ he replied: ‘I cannot!’ Y.E.


Flag of Ukraine.svgThe Scriabin Association unreservedly rejects and deplores the brutal and illegal behaviour of the Putin regime in Russia in its ongoing murderous invasion of Ukraine. Despite this tragic situation, we continue to work for an ever-growing understanding of the music of Alexander Scriabin and the rich Russian culture of his time.

Obituary: Alexander Serafimovich Scriabin, 1947-2022

We have the sad duty of announcing the death of our Honorary President Alexander Serafimovich Scriabin (b.1947), Ph D. He was for a long period the Director of the Alexander Goldenweiser Museum and, from 1992, Director of the Scriabin Foundation. He founded the Scriabin International Piano Competition and has instituted important Scriabin memorials. As a member of the Academic Council of the Scriabin Memorial Museum he has been instrumental in the dissemination of information about the Museum and its activities. He has been an indefatigable publicist of Scriabin and an assiduous compiler of important volumes both on Scriabin and on Goldenweiser.  

Simon Nicholls writes 

Так! Все мы помнили ––– но волил он, и деял. 

V. Ivanov. 

So! We remembered all –––– but he willed and acted. 

I first met Alexander Serafimovich in the Taneyev Reference Library of Moscow Conservatoire. He impressed me immediately as a man of great energy and authority. Soon afterwards, as the recipient of warm hospitality over a delicious meal in the Goldenweiser Museum, I discovered his kindness and warmth together with that of his wife Anna, who survives him. He was endlessly generous in helping me to find rare materials for research and was warmly receptive of all who showed a genuine interest in Scriabin. A deeply and widely cultured man, he made characteristic and informative contributions to many of the Museum’s internet postings. 

When the English Scriabin Association was founded, he was our clear choice as Honorary President and we were delighted when he accepted. In the present tragic situation with Russia, his death robs us of a valuable link with the Memorial Museum and the world of Russian Scriabin research.