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Yulii Engel Biography of Scriabin Chapter VI

[55] VI. Abroad (1904-1909)

Vésenaz – a meeting with Scriabin – His new ideas – Otto – ‘The Divine Poem’–

The rift between Scriabin and Vera Ivanovna – Scriabin’s second marriage –

Tatyana von Schloezer – Bogliasco – Gyorgii Plekhanov – Theosophy – The rift

between Scriabin and the publishing house of Belyayev – Geneva – ‘Rodo’ –

Brussels (programme of the Third Sonata) – America and the American concerts –

Modest Altschuler – Vassilii Safonov – Paris – Diaghilev’s ‘Russian historical concerts’–

Demonstration of ‘Ecstasy’ – Delay in appearance of Scriabin’s major works – their

‘fragments’ – Fifth Sonata – La-Liberté – Scriabin as self-publisher – Sergei

Koussevitsky and association with him – Brussels – Sigon – Alexei Podgayetsky –

Scriabin’s conversations, his attitude to those he spoke with – Trip to Moscow.

The Scriabins left for foreign parts in the spring of 1904. They settled in Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in Vésenaz, not far from Geneva, with which Vésenaz, of which it forms a part, enjoys convenient connections, for example both railways and steamers.

[36]Scriabin chose Switzerland because, as well as being convenient for visitors, its countryside attracted him, as did its free political structure.  ‘Switzerland is a free country’, he used to say; ‘here it is easy to introduce new ideas’. And at that time Scriabin was becoming ever more powerfully engrossed with ‘new ideas’, which were connected not only with art, but with a far wider circle of concepts. It cannot be said that Scriabin always thought these ideas out strictly to their conclusion, but when he met with such conceptions he fell upon them greedily; he was enthusiastically attracted to them and lived by them.

That decisive turn in Scriabin’s personal life which was developing just at that time, and which soon came to a final definition, also created a fertile soil for his inner ferment.

That summer[1]I was also living on the shores of Lake Geneva, but at the opposite end of it. One day I set off for Geneva. There, while changing money at the bank, I heard someone calling to me in Russian. I looked round, and who should it be but Scriabin! He was so kind and insistent as he started to urge me to come and visit him in Vésenaz that I gave up on some of my business and set off together with him.

We travelled by steamer. The sun was shining brilliantly; a fresh wind was blowing; the blue waves of the lake wafted coolness towards us; all round, splendid perspectives of valleys and mountains opened up. A joyful, festive atmosphere embraced us. Whether all this had an effect on Scriabin, or whether, being away from home and moreover abroad, he had simply been longing for a ‘fresh’ companion, just at that very moment he began to speak to me in a particularly intimate way,[2] as if confiding the very dreams and hopes of his soul.

He spoke about the Third Symphony which he was then writing (‘there has never been such music before’), about ‘divine play’ as the basis of the creation of the world and of artistic creation, about the essence of art, about socialism, about religion – in a word, about everything.

‘A fusion of all the arts is essential’, he said, ‘but not such a theatrical one as in Wagner; music must be combined with philosophy and religion into something indivisible and united, which could replace the old outdated Gospel. I have a dream of creating a Mystery of that kind. A special temple has to be built for it – maybe here’ (and without looking he took in the panorama of mountains with an undefined gesture), ‘but maybe far from here, in India.

‘But humanity is not ready for this yet. They must be proselytised, they must be led onto new paths. And I am proselytising. Once even from a boat – like [37]Christ. I have here a little circle of people who understand me excellently and will follow me. One in particular, a fisherman. A simple but wonderful person. I shall introduce him to you.’

Alexander Nikolaevich was talking, and I confess that an uncanny feeling came over me…

Captivating, beautiful! But when such things appear to someone just as simple and realistically achievable as this ride that he was now on, having bought the ticket which he was now holding in his hands – one begins to fear: Is he in his right mind?! But there was nothing to fear… Before me was a poet ‘by the grace of God’, a being not only capable of making palpable a dream of his creation but also of infecting others with the same dream.

Scriabin did not introduce the fisherman to me – it was not necessary. But according to Vera Ivanovna this Otto was really a good fellow, older than Alexander Nikolaevich, whom he nevertheless addressed jokingly as ‘Mon vieux’. They were on informal terms [na ty] and called each other by their first names: ‘Alexandre’, ‘Otto’.

Vera Ivanovna Scriabina related the following story: ‘One day Alexander Nikolaevich was out of the house, he wasn’t there for a whole day. I waited and waited, but couldn’t hold out. In the evening I walked in the direction of the tram-line which goes to Geneva, in case he was there and on his way.  Suddenly, walking past a café, I heard his voice. I walked towards the sound. There were many people in the café, simple folk; Otto was there too. They were listening to Alexander Nikolaevich. He was agitated and prophesying heatedly. That’s where I found him!

‘As often happens, Otto and his comrades were by way of being socialists, and for that reason they listened eagerly when Scriabin fulminated against the existing order: ‘There should be no money!’ ‘There should be no beggars!’ ‘Everyone should work at what he loves!’ ‘Children should be brought up by those who love to do so!’ etc. But, hard to relate, they also listened eagerly to Scriabin’s prophecies of a new art, a new Gospel and the like (he spoke even of this)…’

Relations between Otto and Alexander Nikolaevich were always kept on a good footing, even when Alexander Nikolaevich became disenchanted with the Swiss and with their receptivity to ‘new ideas’. Even much later, when Scriabin was living in Geneva, he would go to visit Otto and his family; they would always greet the visitor gladly: ‘Voilà, Alexandre!’ Beer was handed round, Otto’s comrades gathered and a friendly conversation got going.

During that visit of mine, after dinner, which was eaten in company with the whole Scriabin family, Scriabin and I climbed up to where an upright piano was standing in a bright, but empty room. He played a great deal from his most recent pieces, from the correction proofs (I especially remember the Poême satanique) as well as various excerpts from the Third Symphony which was then being written. I remember [38] that in one excerpt from the symphony, he pointed out a simultaneous combination of several themes and with a curious, worried expression asked: ‘How does this sound?’

I smiled: ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Well, in your opinion, doesn’t it sound too harsh?’

‘But if I and even a hundred others were to say that it’s harsh, you would hardly be likely to change a single note? Isn’t that so? In which case it’s better not to ask!’

He burst out laughing and nodded his head: ‘Quite right!’[3]

The whole score was copied out by Vera Ivanovna Scriabina in her own hand and sent to the publishers in November 1904. After the symphony was ready the harp part was rewritten under the influence of Glazunov’s experience of the symphony.[4]

The Third Symphony (‘Divine Poem’) was first performed on May 29 1905 in Paris (in the Théâtre Châtelet, the Nouveau Théâtre[5]) with financial assistance from M[argarita] K[irillovna] M[orozova].  3000 rubles were needed to pay Artur Nikisch and the famous Parisian impresario Astruc[6] for their assistance in putting on the concert, although in the interests of Scriabin’s publicity, it had to look as if they had of themselves and on their own initiative organised this ‘Concert Artur Nikisch’.

The symphony was preceded by the overture to Der Freischütz [Weber]; after it came some Wagner. In the programme something in the nature of an introduction to the Divine Poem was printed; its philosophical foundation. Here is that introduction, which received the composer’s complete approval:[7]

‘The Divine Poem’ represents the evolution of the human spirit, which, torn away

from a complete past of beliefs and mysteries which it surmounts and overturns,

arrives, having passed through Pantheism, at the intoxicated, joyous affirmation of its

liberty and its unity with the universe (the divine ‘I’).

Luttes [‘Struggles’]. This is the struggle of man enslaved by a personal god, the supreme master of the world, with man powerful and free – the man-god. The latter triumphs, it seems, but it is intelligence alone which raises itself to the affirmation of the ‘I’, [which is] divine, while the individual will is tempted to submerge itself in Pantheism.

Voluptés [‘Sensuous Delights’] Man abandons himself to the delights of the sensual world. Sensual delights intoxicate him and cradle him; he plunges into them. His personality is annihilated, one with nature. At this point the feeling of the sublime arises from the depths of his being; this feeling helps him to conquer the passive state of his human ‘I’.

Jeu divin [‘Divine Play’] The spirit, freed at last from all the ties which had attached it to its past state of submission to a superior force, the spirit which produces the universe by the sole power of its creative will,[8] conscious of being completely one with this Universe, gives itself over to the sublime joy of free activity – ‘Divine Play’.[9]

At the end of the symphony some whistling was heard along with the applause; the latter, however, submerged it, being stormy and twice as loud. In any case, the symphony attracted general attention, especially among a few artistic circles, who saw it as a great occurrence.

This was also reflected in a remark made by the Russian ambassador who was at the concert, amongst others. ‘In war, he said, ‘we get defeats, but in art we have victories.’ These words were repeated by many people.

In the third symphony the revelation of the countenance of a new Scriabin, of a revolutionary in music, can already be heard clearly. Glimpses of this countenance can also be traced in earlier works of Scriabin; the process of its evolution unfolded without interruption even in his last works, right up to his death. But the most decisive and, so to say, fundamental phase of this process belongs to those five years which Scriabin spent abroad, in Switzerland. And the beautiful Third Symphony has remained as an imposing monument to the critical phase of that process, a monument which faces both ways on Scriabin’s creative path – the distance already travelled and what was ahead, as yet only existing as an indication.

The fundamental change of direction in Scriabin’s creative work coincided with the fundamental change in his private life – the second marriage.[10] And this coincidence was no accident. In the character of his second wife – Tatyana Fyodorovna de Schloezer – Scriabin found a person who was not only ready to go with him to the last frontier, but who embraced these frontiers with her entire soul; who could not only follow him but, in certain circumstances, could even direct him.

            Tatyana Fyodorovna de Schloezer is[11]the niece of the same Professor Pavel Yulevich de Schloezer[12] with whom Vera Isakovich studied and at whose house she lived during her entire time at the Conservatoire. Tatyana’s mother, a Belgian, was a fine pianist; by a strange coincidence of fates, she was a pupil of that same Leschetitzky[13] (who has died only recently) with whom Scriabin’s own mother had studied (they even studied at the same time).

Tatyana was born in 1883. She began to study the piano seriously at an early age, and as a girl of fourteen years she came to know the works of Scriabin which were being published at that time. She and her older brother Boris were both in ecstasies about these works. In 1898 Boris and his mother travelled to Moscow to make peace with their ailing uncle and brother –  professor Paul de Schloezer.  In doing so they became acquainted with Scriabin; Boris was as enchanted with his personality and playing as with his works. On their return home Boris told Tatiana of all this, and also brought Scriabin’s new works.

At the age of eighteen Tatyana, who was then living in the Caucasus (in 1901 she was in Pyatigorsk) first heard the Third Sonata performed by Buyukli[14] who was playing it in his concerts at that time.

‘This’, Tatyana Fyodorovna relates, ‘was the most glorious impression of my life. After that, I hardly wanted to play anything except [60] Scriabin. I dreamed of seeing the composer. A year later the dream was fulfilled: in November of 1902 I and my brother were in Moscow, where we moved together into furnished rooms.

‘I looked forward to making Alexander Nikolaevich’s acquaintance with great agitation. For some reason, he arrived later on his first visit to us than he intended, at about 9.30 in the evening. A lively, warm conversation immediately sprang up. At our request, Alexander Nikolaevich sat down at the piano, and my brother and I listened delightedly and kept asking him to play more. But a knock at the door suddenly resounded: we were informed that according to the rules in furnished rooms playing music after 11 p.m. was prohibited. We were embarrassed: it seemed like sacrilege to forbid Scriabin to play! But he laughed and suggested that we should come over to where he lived if we wanted to listen more. And this we did: we immediately set off to Alexander Nikolaevich’s address, where he played to us further till about two in the morning. And this on the first day of our acquaintance!

‘The purpose of my visiting Moscow was to work at composition under the guidance of some competent person. I had never even dreamed of Alexander Nikolaevich in this connection. My joy was therefore all the greater when he himself conceived the desire to work with me. This came about after he had looked over my compositions and heard me improvise. He was immediately very kind about my work.

‘I was then living with my brother Boris Fyodorovich. Alexander Nikolaevich did not work with me very often, and, it was clear, he worked in the way he had been taught: he had me construct two-bar and four-bar sections, periods etc., he forbade parallel fifths and so on. If something of mine did not come out well he was displeased, and I cried. Hearing his improvisations and composed works, I adored the character of his works so much that  I soon stopped dreaming of being a composer. I continued to work with Alexander Nikolaevich, but the purpose of my studies was now not to learn to express myself but to understand his works better.

‘At that time he finished the Second Symphony, after which he went straight on to the Third.

‘My brother and I were in ecstasies over these works, but Alexander Nikolaevich, who had not allowed our feeling for his most recent works to flatter him, reacted to our transports rather sceptically (something of which he told us later). As we got to know one another better this scepticism subsided, however, and he soon began to share eagerly with us each of his musical concepts, each fragment. The approach of the time for departure abroad was very abundant in creative activity for Alexander Nikolaevich: in one year he wrote more than thirty works, among them such things as the Fourth Sonata, the two Poèmes op. 32, the Poème Tragique, the Poème Satanique and others. I listened to all this as the [61] summer of 1903 was coming on; in the winter he worked at details, and in the spring of 1904 everything was already prepared and sent off to the publishers.’

When Scriabin left for Switzerland in 1904 Tatyana Fyodorovna also arrived there, a little later. Alexander Nikolaevich had already insisted in his letters to Boris de Schloezer on the necessity of her coming to Switzerland (for the sake of her health). In Switzerland, Tatyana settled in Belle-Rive, twenty minutes from Vésenaz, where the Scriabins were living. It was at their house that I first met her, during the visit which I described earlier.

She was always there when Alexander Nikolaevich was playing his works to me, every note of which she clearly knew, loved and anticipated. It was she, and not Alexander Nikolaevich, who pointed out this or that detail of a work; it was she who first interjected with confident words, resourcefully countering my direct or indirect attack and gladly joining in with my enthusiasms. It seemed that she took Alexander Nikolaevich’s affairs to heart, as if they were her own, and his works as if they too were her own.

And this impression was correct, as coming events were to confirm.

A few months later (in November 1904) Alexander Nikolaevich set off for Paris, where Tatyana was also staying; after the performance of the Third Symphony they set off for Italy already as husband and wife.[15]

All this was being prepared earlier. That summer he and Vera Ivanovna studied all of his works together (up to the Studies of op. 42), so to speak preparing her for an ensuing independent life. Having studied his music with Vera Ivanovna, he gave her to understand that he would have to leave her from time to time: ‘I must make a sacrifice to art.’

After his departure from Vèsenaz in 1904 Alexander Nikolaevich continued to correspond with Vera for a while; they met a few times as friends, among other times, in May of 1905 in Paris, where the Third Symphony was being performed, and later in Switzerland, after the death of their seven-year-old daughter Rimma. Rimma was Scriabin’s favourite, and her death shook him profoundly. He came to the funeral and sobbed loudly over her grave. At that time the other children were suffering from whooping-cough. That was Alexander Nikolaevich’s last meeting with Vera Ivanovna.

In the spring of 1905 Vera Ivanovna became a professor at Moscow Conservatoire. Alexander Nikolaevich also put in a word for her with Safonov.

Scriabin continued to correspond with Vera Ivanovna, but after that the correspondence too ceased definitively.

In March of 1906, in Moscow, Vera Ivanovna gave her first concert of Scriabin’s works, after which for several years she gave many similar concerts in Moscow, Petrograd,[16] the provinces, Berlin (four times), Leipzig, Dresden, Brussels, Vienna and elsewhere.


Alexander and Tatyana stayed in Italy for ten months from the spring of 1905. Their first daughter was born there. They lived in Bogliasco, on the Italian Riviera (near to Genoa). Their little house was miserable and unprepossessing. But near the house there was a small garden, ‘a true earthly paradise’, as Tatyana recounts: pines, pineapples, cacti, all of it flaunting itself right at the sea’s edge. Alexander Nikolaevich sat through the sunniest hours in the garden at an old stone table, sometimes working, sometimes giving himself over to the dolce far niente. He did not fear the heat, though it was of the fiercest; the sun was his favourite element.

In Bogliasco Scriabin often spent time with Maria Solomonovna Lunts (Lunz)[17] (one of his past pupils in the Moscow Conservatoire) and her husband Doctor Roman Osipovich Lunts/Lunz, and also with the famous socialist emigrant Gyorgii Plekhanov and his in-laws, the Kobylyanskys (also emigrants.)

This was a time at which threatening clouds of revolution were gathering on Russia’s horizons. The air was filled with tension and struggle, and it was impossible to remain indifferent to what was going on in one’s homeland even on the shores of the Mediterranean, even for someone immersed in creative work as was Scriabin, even in such an isolated era of his personal life. Neither did he remain indifferent. Either under the influence of the spirit of those days or through proximity with Plekhanov and other emigrants he became enthusiastic about socialism at that time. He even read Marx’s Das Kapital, though, as usual with him, he ‘read in it’, to be precise, rather than reading it all through; he leafed through it rather than studying it, filling in the gaps with his own theories and dreams.

Plekhanov impressed Alexander Nikolaevich greatly with his all-round erudition, in questions of art amongst other things. They were brought together by the ‘spiritual aristocracy’ to which they both belonged.  But Plekhanov, a realist, created himself out of the world whereas Scriabin, in whom the metaphysical-mystical vein was always strong, created the world out of himself. And what other profession de foi could there be for a person who had just created the Divine Poem! For Scriabin, even socialism was just a path to the furthest, highest levels of some kind – and Plekhanov was eager to satirise this metaphysical vein [63] of Scriabin, who declared that artists are not created by the world, but the world is created by artists: ‘So, it is to you, Alexander Nikolaevich, that we are obliged for the sky’s being so blue today, and the sun so hot? Thank you, thank you!’

Scriabin’s first acquaintance with theosophy also relates approximately to that same period (1905-06). This took place in Paris, in some conversation or other after which Scriabin, who had become interested, acquired some work of theosophical literature. And, as the grand scale of theosophical conceptions was related in many ways to Scriabin’s mystical tendencies, he eagerly took up interest in this new doctrine. Boris de Schloezer even maintains that theosophy, in itself and by itself, made the strongest of all impressions on Scriabin at that time. At that period Scriabin was reading books about India (including a Sanskrit grammar; his favourite book was The Light of India)[18] and about the history of religion; of the Russian poets he was then reading Tyutchev, Balmont and Vyacheslav Ivanov.

‘However’, says Boris de Schloezer, ‘even the influence of theosophy was short-lived. In general, Scriabin developed independently to an unusual extent; he brought everything out, so to speak, from himself, feeding on his own juices, almost instantaneously transforming foreign matter into something of his own, with nothing left over. Thus it was with theosophy, too. Scriabin very quickly transformed the theosophical doctrines completely, and utterly forsook theosophical orthodoxy.’.

The beginning of work on Extase took place in Bogliasco. Here Scriabin played its first theme and some interesting episodes. But most of all he played, to a circle of eager listeners, the Divin poème and the Second Symphony, which sounded magical under his fingers, like piano sonatas, despite their being played on a repellent, crazily out-of-tune upright piano (which had been brought in from a café and which served Scriabin for his compositional work).  At that time he played, amongst other things, the Valse op. 38, which he interpreted (both in performance and in words) as a dream.

In February 1906 Alexander and Tatyana left with their child for Geneva. Their financial position in Geneva was extremely difficult.

Since the death of Belyayev, a temporary confusion had existed in his publishing house, which also had an effect on Scriabin. Previously, Scriabin had received two hundred rubles a month from the firm, and the end of each year an account was agreed upon with him according to the number of works produced. Now, while Scriabin was still in Italy, this payment ceased. On top of that, Scriabin subsequently received a letter from the Belyayev Honorary Council stating that his honorarium would be reduced to fifty percent of what it had been (at that time Scriabin was working on the pieces between opuses forty and fifty.) Scriabin took offence and resigned completely from Belyayev’s firm. (64)

Clearly, this was an error on both sides. Lyadov (a member of the Honorary Council) actually was very fond of Scriabin, but for some reason did not personally write to Scriabin a letter which would have explained to him in friendly way why the reduction was necessary and whether it would be for long. Instead of a friendly letter of that kind, Scriabin just received an official announcement from the Council of the lowering of the allowance. In his turn, Scriabin suddenly forsook the publishing house altogether – which was also a mistake.

Negotiations with Jurgenson did not come to anything; Scriabin wrote to him but clearly they did not agree on conditions. Next, an experiment was made of approaching a completely new publisher: J. G. Zimmerman of Leipzig. Scriabin sent four preludes to him in Leipzig (Op. 48?) The answer was a rejection. Zimmerman wrote that he had shown the preludes to respected professors in Leipzig, that they had given poor opinions of the works, and for this reason Zimmerman did not accept the Preludes. But from his side he, Zimmerman, made a new proposition: to write generally accessible melodious waltzes, which he would print with pleasure, with an honorarium of twenty-five rubles each…

Thus, after forty published opuses, after three symphonies, Scriabin once more found himself in the position, so to say, of a beginning composer, with no publisher and no hope of finding one…it was enough to make one despair.

In Geneva Scriabin made friends with a sculptor, ‘Rodo’ (his real surname was Niederhäusern),[19] whom he got to know through Plekhanov, as they lived in the same place. ‘Rodo’ was a member of the jury of the Paris Salon, the creator of a statue of Verlaine in Paris and other things. This was an unworldly person, an occultist, full of mystical strivings and of unusual flights of fancy. Scriabin was delighted with him and very much-loved conversing with him. This usually took place in a café where ‘Rodo’ ‘dined’, at thirty-five centimes for an inedible main dish, and wine, to which ‘Rodo’ paid much more attention both as regards quantity and quality.  Scriabin often met with this ‘Rodo’ as a friend later in Paris.

In Geneva there awaited Scriabin, amongst other things, a piano concert in which were played the Third Sonata, the Allegro de concert and other things (June 30, 1906).

There too, in Geneva, Scriabin received from Tatyana’s father, who was deadly ill, cuttings from some Russian paper announcing that in New York Modeste Altschuler was inviting Russian composers to send him their orchestral compositions for performance in the ‘Russian Concerts’ which were taking place there.  From Geneva Scriabin sent Altschuler a letter, and quickly received an invitation to come and make a personal appearance in these concerts (to play his piano concerto.) The terms [65] were extremely modest, but nevertheless this was something, and the affair itself seemed to be appealing.

Via Rotterdam Scriabin set off for America; Tatyana and the child stayed in Amsterdam (two of Tatyana’s aunts lived in Holland at that time). In November 1906, before his departure for America, Scriabin gave two piano recitals in Brussels, where he was already known from previous appearances.[20]

Scriabin stayed in America for about five months. Modeste Altschuler did a great deal for him there.[21]

Altschuler was a colleague of Scriabin at the Moscow Conservatoire who graduated as a cellist. He had resettled in New York seven or eight years before these events where he managed to create for himself a prominent and honourable position in the world of music. Among other things, he organised his own orchestra, which consisted mostly of Jewish musicians, immigrants from Russia. Eventually, the orchestra prospered, but at that time it barely existed; the musicians’ pay was scraped together somehow in the intervals of the concerts.[22] With this orchestra Altschuler founded in New York the ‘Russian Symphony Society’ amongst other things. Its concerts successfully promoted Russian music.

Altschuler was able to estimate Scriabin’s significance and powers immediately and did everything he possibly could for him in America.  In his concerts he performed Scriabin’s First Symphony (without the choral finale) and the Divine Poem. The concerts took place in Carnegie Hall (December 1st–20th 1906); the orchestra was sympathetic towards Scriabin’s music and played it well. Besides this, a small recital tour of American cities (Chicago, Detroit etc.) was arranged with Altschuler’s help, which supported Scriabin materially to some extent. Up to this time Scriabin was known in America only as the composer for the Nocturne for Left Hand.

[66] Scriabin also appeared in New York as a pianist – amongst other places, at the ‘Amateur Musical Club’ (March, 1907).

It happened that Scriabin’s old teacher Safonov was also in New York at that time, having left the Moscow Conservatoire in 1905. He was head of the concerts of the New York Philharmonic. His attitude to Scriabin had changed noticeably and greatly in comparison with earlier times. He even liked the Second Symphony less than the first; the Third Symphony and the piano pieces written at the same time showed even more that Scriabin had moved away from the musical guardianship of his old teacher and his influence, and parted with his musical ideals. This inclined Safonov to be against both Scriabin’s ‘self-transformation’ and his second marriage, which had coincided with this change. All the same, Safonov was fairly friendly with Scriabin at their first meeting:  he even proposed that he would direct the orchestra when Scriabin played his F sharp minor Piano Concerto (though he played no Scriabin in his ‘Philharmonic Concerts’.)

But their relationship became completely strained when, in January 1907[23] Tatyana Fyodorovna came to New York at Alexander Nikolaevich’s request.[24]  A complete rift developed between Scriabin and Safonov on account of her arrival. All this did not remain a secret from the American reporters. Scriabin was finally obliged to leave New York in March for the same reasons that Maxim Gorky had had to earlier – the hypocritical, bourgeois sanctimoniousness of the Americans.[25]   Thanks to Altschuler, they found out at three in the morning about the serious unpleasantness that threatened them on the following day, spent the whole night packing and were on the steamer for Europe by eight in the morning.

From America the Scriabins set out for Paris. They arrived there with 30 francs in their pockets, but helpful friends turned up. At that time Diaghilev’s ‘Grand Russian Historical Concerts’ were imminent (six in all, from May 16th – 30th, in the Paris Opera.) Works by Scriabin were among those to be played in the concerts: the [Second][26] Symphony directed by Nikisch on May 30th, and the piano concerto (with Hoffman as soloist) on the 23rd.

The ‘Russian Concerts’ gathered together in Paris the most glittering collection of Russian composers, concert performers, and others active in music. Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Rachmaninov, Chaliapin, Tcherepnin, Felix Blumenfeld, Koussevitzky and others were present.     

Rimsky-Korsakov, who previously had not gone out of his way to meet with Scriabin, now showed a great interest in him; and not only him but his family.     They were all at the Scriabins’ when Alexander Nikolaevich demonstrated his Poem of Ecstasy on the piano. Apart from the Rimsky-Korsakovs, [67], Rachmaninov, Glazunov, Felix Blumenfeld, Joseph Hoffman, Margarita Morozova and others were present at this demonstration. Scriabin first read his verse Poem of Ecstasy, and afterwards played the score of the Poem of Ecstasy on the piano; during the performance Tatyana Fyodorovna helped him out in complex polyphonic passages. The Poem evoked little sympathy amongst the listeners, but everyone felt something. The piano pieces which Scriabin played at Hofmann’s request met with far more sympathy. [27]

Scriabin also spoke of his future ‘mystery’.  Rimsky-Korsakov was very interested in it, and asked many questions about it, especially about the possibility of everyone taking part in it.

Rimsky-Korsakov and Scriabin, amongst others, had one trait in common:  a sensitivity to the visual colour of notes, of chords and of tonalities. Once, after a concert rehearsal, both of them sat down together with Rachmaninov at a table of the famous Café de la Paix (close to the Grand Opera building, where the ‘Russian’ concerts were being given).[28] And there a lively conversation took place about the connection between sound and colour, about ‘colour hearing.’  Not everything corresponded in Rimsky-Korsakov’s and Scriabin’s experience, each ‘saw’ differently from the other in many respects.  But, despite the disagreement, their experiences did match – above all, the very fact of an organic correspondence between sound and colour.  This fact itself seemed alien to Rachmaninov. ‘But,’ Rimsky-Korsakov said to him, ‘in your Miserly Knight, why does D major, the colour of gold, predominate in the basement scene? It means that you do feel something!’

At one of the concerts (the second) the following remarkable occurrence took place. The evening had already begun, and Scriabin had still not received the ticket Diaghilev had promised him. The ticket only arrived when Scriabin had already left the building. In the interval Scriabin applied to   Diaghilev in his usual sensitive and confused manner: How late you sent the ticket! After all, I could have completely left the building by this time, and the ticket would not have reached me at all!’ Diaghilev answered: ‘Be grateful that I sent it when I did. I could not have sent it at all!  It would have been better, Sir, if you had sent it to yourself!’ What then happened to Scriabin is difficult to describe – as a very prominent musician of the time tells who was present at this scene and there and then expressed his delight to Scriabin. Where did the ‘quiet’ Alexander Nikolaevich get to?   He was at boiling point, and nervously, almost shouting, but without [68] losing his dignity, flung out at Diaghilev: ‘And you allow yourself to speak like that to me! You’re forgetting that art is us, the artists!

We created it, and you only turn around it! Without us – no-one would want to know you, you just wouldn’t exist in society!’ Diaghilev was terribly embarrassed: ‘How could you, Alexander Nikolaevich! Of course, I am nothing’ and so on.

The dignity of the artist was always a sore point with Scriabin, and it was impossible to touch him on this side without suffering the consequences. On such occasions, he lost his composure and was capable of using the maximum harshness of which he was capable. 

At that time there was a reconciliation in Paris between Scriabin and members of the honorary council of the Belaieff publishing firm who were present at the concerts. Disagreements were settled and agreement was reached on a restoration of previous terms.

The publishing house was to issue the Poem of Ecstasy, as soon as the orchestral score should be ready (it did not get finished in Paris).    

From the meeting and from conversation with his compatriots in Paris Scriabin became convinced that in Russia (and, partly, in Moscow) by no means everyone was against him and that universal enmity towards himself had not been established, as he had thought, after events like the collision with Safonov. On the contrary, he saw that there was plenty of goodwill and a benevolent attitude towards himself on the part of leading fellow-countrymen, and this very much gladdened and cheered him.

From Paris Scriabin travelled to Switzerland, where he spent the summer in Beatenberg (a mountainous spa town near Lake Thun.)  Here he met up mostly with the Luntses, the Kobylyanskys and Altschuler, who had arrived from America. Scriabin continued working on the Poem of Ecstasy in Beatenberg. At the time when the Poem was just a project (as early as when he was in Bogliasco) Scriabin was convinced that he would finish the score and publish it within a year. After that, while in America, he asked Tatyana Fyodorovna to bring the score of the Poem of Ecstasy to New York, thinking he would finish it there. He also thought the same in Beatenberg.

But he was not able to finish the Poem of Ecstasy until he was in Lausanne, where the Scriabins settled after Beatenberg (summer 1907 to the end of summer, 1908). It was necessary to be able to keep up to schedule and send the score, as had been promised, for Altschuler’s performance in New York and for publication by the Belaieff publishing house in Leipzig. For three weeks Scriabin and his wife slept from three to five hours in the twenty-four; he wrote, she copied and collated. And all the same they didn’t manage it – above all for America. The Poem of Ecstasy did not appear in print until January 1908 – two weeks before the birth of the Scriabins’ son, Julian.

This kind of delay with large-scale works – in the sincere belief that at such-and-such a time (at the end of some definite period) he would finish them – was characteristic of [69] Scriabin’s whole creative life, right through to the Mystery, of which he spoke for nearly twelve years as of something close, but of which so little – almost nothing – remains.[29]

But this kind of delay, which strained his thought for a long time in one direction, created, so to speak, a superabundance of materials which were essential to the thought’s embodiment, in consequence of which secondary, shorter compositions usually appeared as well as the main one – fragments, it could be said, of the main work.  These fragments, by contrast, were created for the most part easily and quickly. Such a fragment of the Poem of Ecstasy is the Fifth Sonata which actually bears a motto from the verse Poem of Ecstasy as epigraph. It was written in a few days, there in Lausanne.[30]

Mark Meichik received this sonata from Scriabin in Lausanne; he learned it according to the composer’s directions and gave the first performance in Russia.

Another pianist, Laliberté (from Canada), also visited Scriabin in Lausanne. Laliberté had made the acquaintance of Scriabin in New York, but already worshipped his creations. A powerful, energetic man, an original (“a young savage”), he was however not free from certain excessively ‘American’ traits of a commercial nature. He came to Lausanne to see the ‘maître’, and, so we are told, Scriabin in his Lausanne isolation was very pleased with him and gave him the autograph scores of the Poem of Ecstasy and the Fifth Sonata.[31]

Alexander Nikolaevich’s father also travelled to Lausanne in order to get to know Tatyana (he had been in Paris for his work.) Boris Fyodorovich de Schloezer also visited Lausanne with his wife.

In Lausanne Scriabin managed to give three concerts (November 1st 1907, April 11th and July 12th 1908). He played the Third Sonata, which obviously captivated the citizens of Lausanne (the previously given explanatory lines to it were printed in the programmes.)

In Lausanne Scriabin also received an invitation from the I.R.M.S.[32] to come and take part in one of the society’s symphonic concerts. Not long before this, Margarita Morozova, a long-standing pupil and friend of Scriabin, had entered the directors’ board of the Moscow division, and her insistent initiatives were the major cause of this invitation.  But Scriabin was not able to accept the invitation immediately. He wanted to travel to Moscow together with Tatyana Fyodorova, which was only possible in the next season, and the trip to Moscow was postponed until then.

In Lausanne the idea came to Scriabin, among other things, of publishing his works himself. Having allowed Belaieff to publish his orchestral works, he wished to publish his smaller works himself. He even hoped to extract himself by this method from his financial situation, which was troublesome at this time, for he proposed to receive from his piano [70] works the same income that the publishers were getting. But this undertaking, generally difficult to realise given the depressed state of the market for music, was doomed to hopelessness from an early stage, and especially – an extraordinary turn of events – in the hands of an ‘entrepreneur’ so incapable in business matters as Scriabin.

He set about his task most zealously: he sought out some associate to manage the technical side, who was to receive a defined percentage of the ‘profits of the enterprise’ (for the time being he received money from the hands of the composer himself!), published the Fifth Piano Sonata (op.53) and the two pieces of op. 52 with the significant superscription ‘propriété de l’auteur’; went into association with the Paris firm Enoch, who would be in charge of the commissioned stock ‘Edition des oeuvres de A. Scriabine’ and so on. None of this happened, however. Opus 52 and 53 are by no means of that class of popular works which would have been able to sell themselves. No advertisements of them of any kind were made, and in such circumstances none could have been made; Enoch showed no sign of interest in such complicated works, about which no-one enquired. From all the sums which had been spent on the edition, Scriabin handed over only a few francs after two years, of which, it should be very proud, he was most proud. The edition itself was later extricated and bought back with great difficulty  and bought back from Enoch, in whose back rooms it had been fading.

This was achieved by Sergei Alexandrovich Koussevitsky, who had by that time become Scriabin’s publisher and a close friend to him in general. It happened this way. Koussevitzky, who had been famous up to that time as a virtuoso bass-player, the only one of his kind, was then preparing for the commencement of two large-scale undertakings: the Russian Musical Publishing House (Edition russe de musique) in Berlin and his own symphony concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg. For both the one and the other he needed to attract the interest and sympathy of large-scale musical forces, principally of composers. Amongst the latter, of course, Scriabin was bound to draw Scriabin’s attention – in the first case, as a first-class talent (whose works Koussevitzky had long known and greatly admired) and, secondly as a composer who had had disagreements with former publishers and was now particularly in need of support.  And Koussevitzky set to work energetically and straightforwardly. In spring, 1908, he visited Scriabin in Lausanne and there straightaway concluded a deal.

They got on well together and would talk for half an hour like old acquaintances.[33] [71]

Scriabin was glad of Koussevitzky’s proposal. Unfailingly gentle and sincere, he enchanted his future publisher. ‘Scriabin told me’, Koussevitzky recounts, ‘that long ago he had conceived of a large-scale composition, the ‘Mystery’, which he was already partly busy with, but circumstances did not allow him the possibility of concentrating on large-scale things and forced him to write trifles. If he were allowed a few summers’ peaceful work, he would finish the ‘Mystery’ in five summers at the most. He wanted the publishing-house to grant him this dispensation, at the rate of five thousand roubles in the course of five years. For this he would give the publishers short pieces, and when the ‘Mystery’ was complete, it too would be given to the Editions russes de musique. I agreed to all of this on the spot.’

Both sides parted satisfied with each other. Scriabin did not need to think alarmedly of the coming days; Koussevitzky had secured a star of the first magnitude for his publishing and his concerts.

There was no further reason for Scriabin to stay on in Austria. Tatyana Fyodorovna’s mother travelled with the children to Belgium, to Brussels; Scriabin to Biarritz, to the Koussevitzkys, with whom he spent August. In Biarritz S. N. Sudbinin made his bust of Scriabin.[34] From there the Scriabins[35] set off for Brussels, where they spent about a year and a half (45, Rue de la Reforme).

In Brussels Scriabin had, besides Tatyana Fyodorovna’s relatives, acquaintances from the time of his previous residence in this city – among the Theosophists, amongst other things.

Amongst them, for example, was the artist Delville – the one who later designed the cover for Prometheus. [36] In Brussels Scriabin also frequently met with Emil Cygogne, professor of elocution, and A. A. Podgaetsky.

Cygogne and Scriabin were different kinds of people in many ways (‘Cygogne has a Hellenic soul; Scriabin’s soul is Indic’),[37] but they were fond of each other and conversed eagerly on various topics: art, social questions, language. With regard to language, Scriabin was always interested in questions on this topic. It happened that around this period he was already enthusiastic about the idea of creating a new language for the ‘Mystery’ – but not so much a language of words (whose roots would be Sanskrutik), but a language of exclamations, interjections, sighs. Later (not long before his death) he studied the technique of versification, amongst other things. Scriabin’s conversations with Cygogne took place on Sundays, either at Scriabin’s address or in a booth in a café, usually over a glass of wine, after breakfast or, more often, after dinner. Scriabin loved to sit up late in this way.

A.A. Podgaetsky, who was then a student at the Brussels Conservatoire, got to know Scriabin earlier, at the time of his concerts there [72] in 1906 (before America). One of the professors in the Conservatoire was horror-struck even before these concerts and told Podgaetsky of Scriabin’s views: ‘Beethoven ne vaut rien pour lui!’ [‘For him, Beethoven is worthless!’] After Scriabin’s first concert in Brussels (1906), where he played the Third Sonata and some pieces preceding it, Podgaetsky was in raptures of Scriabin and went to meet him. From Scriabin’s side he was met in the most simple and sincere way. Podgaestsky mentions, among other things, Scriabin’s disdain for Schubert at the time, and especially for Tchaikovsky, whom he thoroughly took to pieces (whistling, for example, the little figure given to the winds in the [trio of] the scherzo in the Fourth Symphony).

Now, that is to say in 1908-9, Podgaetsky once again started spending time with Scriabin. Scriabin was fond of conversing with such people, some of those who neither argued with him nor annoyed him; he perceived an empathy in them. This ‘halo of empathy’ was essential to him, ‘without which the word dries up, so to speak, shrivels, the idea is incapable of enrichment, conversation cannot flourish in mutual creativity.’ From the other point of view, Scriabin, meeting with some kind of sympathy for one or another of his ideas, Scriabin eagerly ascribed to his conversational partner some of his further thoughts, to which the partner was not yet a party.  (Usually, it’s the other way about: after reading something or hearing it from something else, people exclaim: That’s my idea!)

This essentially speeded up Scriabin’s approach to the most different kinds of people – to the greatest extent those who, even if only in some respect, were suitable for him, but on the other hand it also provided a basis for the most rapid disappointments and misunderstandings. From this comes Scriabin’s unusual trustfulness, but also his unusual degree of misgivings. After long acquaintance with someone he usually became less unceremonious and simple than he had been previously.

Amongst other things, Scriabin taught Podgaetsky about Theosophy. He put into his hand the catechisms of Olcott, Blavatsky and others. But, while basing himself either on Olcott or Blavatsky, Scriabin himself not infrequently preached something quite different. It was enough for him to read one page of Blavatsky where it was possible to divine something or other approximating to his thoughts for him, while sailing under Blavatsky’s flag, to prophesy absolutely not according to her inner dreams but his own.  And these dreams were often of a military aggressive cast which sometimes was shocking. Later, in Moscow, he became much more reserved.

While living in Brussels the Scriabins prepared to depart for Moscow, which in many respects disturbed them. Scriabin played a great deal, getting ready to appear also as a pianist. [72]

Finally, at the very end of 1908, he and Tayana Fyodorovna set off on their rout, which passed through Berlin. Here they were joined again by Koussevitzky. After a few days (in the second half of January 1909) Scriabin at last returned to his native Moscow after more than five years’ absence.                             

[1] Part of this account, translated by the present translator and Michael Pushkin, appeared in The Notebooks of Alexander Skryabin (OUP, 2018).

[2] In fact, it is also possible that it was not like that: in general, Scriabin eagerly developed his thoughts to other people, especially at that time, but, as a person who was not close to Scriabin, this was precisely the impression I received. Y. E.

[3] This conversation probably refers to the beginning of the recapitulation in the first movement, no. 25 in the Belaieff score.

[4] The same applies to the string bowings, the timpani and cymbals, and some additions for the trumpet in the finale. These could not be incorporated in the Belaieff edition, but Scriabin sent a score with ms. corrections to Alexander Koptyayev [musicologist and composer,1868–1941], who published the results in his book A.N. Scriabin: kharakteristiki (Moscow: Yurgenson 1916.) See Kharakteristiki p.60–67, with additional slip added at p. 63. These alterations were included in later Russian scores, e.g., A. Skryabin. Soch. 43. Tret’ya simfoniya. Partitura. State musical publishers M./L. 1949. Scriabin: Symphony no. 3. Ed. A. V. Kashperov. Muzgiz 1961. Alexander Scriabin: Collected Works I/3: Symphony no. 3.  (Moscow: Muzyka/P. Jurgenson, 2013.) See notes in that edition, p. 302-303.

[5] As it was then known. The name Theâtre nouveau appears on the concert announcement.

[6] Gabriel Astruc (1864-1938). He promoted Chaliapin, Artur Rubinstein, Wanda Landowska – and Mata Hari.

[7] The introduction was originally in French.

[8] A strong fore-taste of the beginning of the literary Poème de l’extase.

[9] This programme is thought by some to have been written by Tatyana de Schloezer, of whom more will shortly be heard.

[10] In fact, there was no second marriage, as a divorce could not be obtained from Vera. This became what we would now call a ‘common law’ marriage.

[11] This text was written in 1915, and Tatyana did not die until 1922. The Schloezers were entitled to the ‘de’ before their names in Belgium, their country of origin, but this was not applied in Russia. We are dealing here with a pre-revolutionary text, so the absence of ‘de’ was not for ideological or egalitarian reasons.

[12] Cf. Chap. III n. 7.

[13] Theodor Leschetitzky (1813–1915) studied with Czerny and taught in St Petersburg from 1852 – 1877, and thereafter as a private teacher in Vienna. Having taught such widely varying and highly regarded pianists as Paderewski and Schnabel, he is considered by many to have been one of the greatest teachers of any period.

There has been much discussion of the ‘Leschetitzky Method’; no doubt the preparation (done by assistants) was very thorough and excellent, but Leschetitzky denied having any method at all. From the vivid individuality of so many of his pupils it is clear that his genius was in helping each pupil, some of them huge talents, to find him- or herself. In the case of Schnabel, for example, this was done partly by suggesting the works of Schubert, then regarded as for the most part as not worthy of the consideration of virtuoso pianists.

[14] Vsevolod Buyukli (1873–1920) graduated from Moscow Conservatoire in 1895 and was a very successful pianist despite a nervous and moody temperament which led to some uneven results – similarly to Scriabin himself and to the later Sofronitsky. His strength of sound and robustness of interpretation were much superior to Scriabin’s own, and the latter particularly valued Buyukli’s interpretation of the Third Sonata.

[15] A tactful and cosmetic fiction. Yulii Engel’ had a close sympathy with Scriabin’s works, as his many perceptive reviews and essays show (cf. Glazami sovremennika [‘With the Eyes of a Contemporary’], Moscow: Sovetskii Kompozitor, 1971, passim.)  This being so, he may have been more sympathetically inclined to Scriabin’s personal position than were some of his contemporaries. He also had to protect the sensibilities of those still alive at the time of writing, particularly Tatyana de Schloezer.

[16] This was the name of St Petersburg from 1914–1924. It was considered less ‘Germanic’.

[17] Née Mariya Nemenova. Her reminiscences of study with Scriabin were published in the same issue of Muzykal’nyi sovremennik as Engel’s biography (p. 97-111).

[18] This is most likely to have been La lumière de l’Inde by Lamartine, in which Hindu doctrine is expressed in romantic, poetic language.

[19] Auguste de Niederhäusern (1863–1913), of Swiss origin, sculptor and medallist, used the pseudonym ‘Rodo’, perhaps in honour of the six years he spent in Rodin’s studio. His best-known work is probably the monument to Verlaine, which is situated in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

[20] In these concerts on the 8th and 21st of November (and also on November 19, somewhere near Brussels) he performed, among other things, the Third Sonata; for each movement of the sonata a special programme was printed, sanctioned, of course, by the composer. Here it is, [translated from the original French]:

               Sonata no. 3 in F-sharp minor, op. 23: States of the soul.

  1. a) Allegro dramatico [sic]. The free, wild soul throws itself passionately into sorrow and struggle.
  2. b) Allegretto. The soul has found a kind of momentary, spurious peace; tired of suffering, it yet wishes to deaden sensation, to sing and flourish…But the light rhythm, the fragrant harmonies, are but a veil through which can be discerned the unquiet, wounded soul.
  3. c) Andante. The soul floats freely in a sea of sweet, melancholy feelings: love, sadness, vague desires, indefinable thoughts, which have a fragile, spectral charm…
  4. d) Presto. In the torment of the unleashed elements, the soul fights and struggles intoxicatedly. From the depths of being the formidable voice of the man-God rises; its song of victory resounds triumphantly! But, still too weak, near to reaching the summit, he falls, struck by a thunderbolt, into the abyss of nothingness! Y.E.

[21] To avoid wounding the sensibilities of then living people, Engel’ passes over in silence the impending scandal of Scriabin and de Schloezer’s unmarried cohabitation, which forced them to leave shortly after Tatyana de Schloezer had arrived in America. [Trans: this ‘spiritual programme’, described as being ‘sanctioned by the composer’, seems to bear the same marks of style as the one for the Divine Poem. It is possible that this, too, may be by Tatyana Schloezer, or by her together with her brother Boris.]

[22] Clearly, the pay depended on box-office takings.

[23] The obviously mistaken date ‘1897’ is crossed out by hand in the copy used for this translation.

[24] In fact she was pleaded with not to come, but turned up anyway.

[25] Both men were in long-term relationships with women to whom they were not married.

[26] Information from Letopis’.

[27] Joseph Hoffmann appreciated Scriabin’s music from an earlier period, in fact he was among the first –  being a future celebrity of the highest class – to start playing  pieces by a composer who was then little known. At that time Scriabin also appreciated Hoffman. In general, he was not inclined to be enthusiastic about music by other people, especially when played by strangers, but Hoffman was sometimes capable of moving him to the point of tears (particularly in Schumann’s F sharp minor sonata, for example). Only much later (when he returned to Russia) did Scriabin’s attitude to Hoffman change. Y.E.

[28] This imposing and spectacular establishment still occupies the same location.

[29] At the time of writing Engel’ may not have known clearly that there were two versions of the libretto (one complete, one incomplete) in existence as well as 53 pages of musical sketches.

[30]  Research by Christoph Flamm has established that this very short period refers to the finishing of the Sonata, delayed by work on the Poem of Ecstasy. Work on it started in summer 1908, and perhaps late in 1907. Confusion has been caused by Scriabin’s referring to the piece in correspondence as ‘a large Poème’.

Skrjabin: Sämtliche Klaviersonaten II. Christoph Flamm, editor. Kassel, 2009, Bärenreiter, p. XXVI.

[31] In 1971 Laliberté’s widow, Madeleine, donated a number of items, including the 5th Sonata Ms., to the Scriabin Memorial Museum, Moscow. V. Rubtsova, ‘From Autograph to Edition’, introduction to A. Scriabin, Sonata No. 5, op. 53. For Piano. Urtext and Facsimile (preparation, preface and comments by V. Rubtsova.) Moscow: Muzyka, 2008, p. 130.

[32] (I.R.M.O. in Russian.) Imperial Russian Musical Society. See Chap 4 n.10.

[33] In Paris, at the time of Diaghilev’s ‘Russian Concerts’ (1907) Scriabin and Koussevitzky merely saw each other; they did not become acquainted. Y.E.

[34] Seraphim Nikolaevich Sudbinin (1867–1944) was an actor, painter and sculptor. He was a member of Stanislavsky’s original ensemble, and in 1910 made a bust of Rodin. His bust of Scriabin is now in the Scriabin Memorial Museum, Moscow.

[35] Scriabin and Tatyana.

[36] Jean Delville (1867-1953) was a Belgian Theosophist and Symbolist painter. A winner of the Belgian Prix de Rome, Delville taught for a while at the Glasgow School of Art. His symbolic compositions tend to the grandiose and combine carefully contrived geometric compositional principles with anatomically correct nude figures, often in alarmingly large numbers.

[37] Indusa – indicating the world of ancient Indian culture rather than the geographic location that is modern India. Trans.