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Scriabin and the concept of ‘Universal Consciousness’ in the context of pre-Revolutionary Russia.[1]

Among the sayings of Alexander Scriabin recorded by his friend, the musical journalist Leonid Sabaneyev, was the following: ‘Our thoughts are external to us[…]they only seem to be ours, but in fact, of course, they are general…’[2] Scriabin’s conception of a trans-personal mind  occurs several times in his notebooks, most completely in the notebook of 1905­­–6:

            […]for a person who as such represents from within himself one of the states of the universal           consciousness, it is impossible to perceive other people only from the aspect of their relation to the external world.[…] The universal consciousness as such does not experience [‘live through’] anything, it is life itself, it does not think anything, it is thought itself, it does not do anything, it is activity itself. God, as a state of consciousness, is the personality which is the bearer of this universal principle. [3]

For Scriabin, creative activity and the Divine principle were identical, and he associated the creative part of himself (which contemporary thought might interpret as the unconscious mind, and Greek philosophy as the daemon) with a higher, Divine principle. Hence the exclamations ‘I am God!’ in the notebook of 1904–5[4] and Scriabin’s way of expressing himself in his letters to his partner Tatyana Schloezer about the creative process of writing the Poem of Ecstasy:

            My enchantment, I bow down before the greatness of the feeling which you grant to him who dwells in me. He is great, though I, small as I am, am sometimes poor, little, weak, and tired.[5]

The idea of a portion of the individual personality or identity as divine is found in Indian thought as the purusha. C. Shandra defines the purusha as ‘pure Consciousness [,] the soul, the self, the spirit, the subject, the knower.’[6] Scriabin read of this concept in the Katha Upanishad, which was published in Russian not long before he died.[7] As with many things in his reading which interested him (Blavatsky’s ‘Theosophy’, for example) this came as a confirmation of his own thought. The final entry in the notebook of 1905–6, previously cited, continues: ‘Personal consciousness is an illusion which occurs when universal or individual consciousness identifies itself with lower principles […].’

It was Sabaneyev’s usual method to present Scriabin’s thoughts as unprecedented, mystical aberrations. In the context quoted above, Scriabin’s dictum is delivered after speculations on the ‘astral’, rather than ‘physical’ atmosphere in India and other ‘spiritual’ countries, and in a ‘mysterious’ tone.[8] But this thought can be clearly related to a strand in the Russian philosophy of the period.

In his early twenties, Scriabin’s philosophical mentor was Prince Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoy. Trubetskoy published his first, extended philosophical article on consciousness in 1890: ‘O prirode cheloveskogo soznaniya’ [‘On the nature of human consciousness’]. In this work, Trubetskoy refers to a Socratic basis;[9] but he reasons that individual consciousness is conditioned by a collective element.

            As it affirms the reality of activity, and consequently in its true nature, consciousness possesses a definite, living universality. Thus, there is no opposition between the abstract principles of ‘general’ and ‘private’, between ‘the race’[10] and ‘the individual’; in reality, one    does not exist without the other. There is no consciousness without a conscious individual, and no absolutely subjective consciousness. In contemplating consciousness, either from the exterior, as regards the progressively developing phenomena of life, or from within, in the light of psychological analysis, we become convinced of its organic universality, in the ideal sobornost[11] of consciousness.[12]

To strive towards universality in consciousness, and thus towards knowledge of truth and the ‘perfect society’, is the purpose of life:

            The human spirit is objective only in society and in activity within society, together with intelligent beings ­– in a place where they exist in truth, not only in and for themselves, but also in and for others, and where others exist in and for the spirit, as it itself indeed does. For this reason the human spirit can be completely objective only in a perfect, absolute society.  And one may say that to strive towards such a society is to strive towards true spiritual life,          towards immortality and resurrection. […] is consciousness individual, is it subjective or, rather, is it collective (sobornoe)? In the first case the soul cannot have any substantial objectivity, any universal significance and existence; […]. In the second case, if human consciousness is essentially collective, if it is the possibility of the consciousness of all in one, then its subjective I (я) can possess general, objective existence in this collective consciousness; its self-knowledge receives objective, universal authenticity. [13]

For us in the third decade of the twenty-first century this faith in the perfectibility of society, familiar from the conversations of Chekhov’s characters, seems distant and alien; but for Scriabin, brought up in a bourgeois, conservative and military family, these must have been intoxicating concepts. He would have read a few pages earlier that ‘every truly artistic work is an image of general humanity […].’[14]

There seems little doubt, then, that the philosophy of Trubetskoy, carefully and methodically reasoned as it is, and devoutly Orthodox as Trubetskoy was, was a factor in the radical transformation of Scriabin’s originally Orthodox thought. According to the reminiscences of Scriabin’s Aunt Lyubov’, her nephew began to associate with Trubetskoy, a leading figure in philosophical Moscow, late in 1895.[15] In 1892 Scriabin, then an ardent churchgoer, had started to read Schopenhauer;[16] in 1900 he wrote down a declaration of his rejection of God.[17] In the notebook of 1904–5 he begins to think about his own version of ‘collective consciousness’: ‘Once there is no real multiplicity, there is no individual consciousness, which is a relation to other individual consciousnesses and indeed exists only as a relation to them.’[18] Scriabin, though, moved away early on in his reasoning from Trubetskoy’s final assertion,  that ‘perfect, divine Love’ proposes ‘the union of God and Man, or the Church’.[19]

In Scriabin’s Preliminary Action a divine being, ‘the Pre-Eternal’, is evoked, but the emphasis, in the long final chorus, is on a mingling of human souls and of feelings in the ‘unified wave’ of a new stage of existence.[20] The common element between these widely different concepts is the old Russian idea of unity, sobornost’.

Simon Nicholls


© 2021

[1] Scriabin’s ‘general’ or ‘universal’ consciousness and Trubetskoy’s ‘collective’ consciousness may be regarded as the same thing, allowing for their very different attitudes to transcendence. These words express a consciousness which is ‘transpersonal’ (my phrase, which neither of them uses: both transcend the individual.)

[2] L. L. Sabaneyev: Vospominaniya o Skryabine [Reminiscences of Scriabin] [1925] Moscow: Klassika-XXI 2003 p. 307.

[3] Simon Nicholls and Michael Pushkin, trans. and ed., The Notebooks of Alexander Skryabin [1919]. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2018 p. 113 and 115.

[4] Notebooks p. 70.

[5] Notebooks p. 239. Letter of 15/28 December 1906.

[6] Chandradhar Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1960/2016 p. 155-157.

[7] Notebooks p. 193. Scriabin could have encountered the concept of the purusha as the origin of the advaita (non-division) in Henri Barth’s Les religions de l’Inde (1879). English translation: The Religions of India, 5th ed., London: Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1921, p.72. Boris de Schloezer confirms that Scriabin had this book. Boris de Schloezer: Scriabin: Artist and Mystic. N. Slonimsky, trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 69.

[8] Vospominaniya  p. 306. ‘You see, there the atmosphere itself is of course not physical, but astral, so that there clairvoyancy and all the faculties can unfold.’

[9] Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak, Sergei N. Trubetskoi: An Intellectual Among the Intelligentsia in Pre-Revolutionary Russia. Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1976 p. 36.

[10] It is clear that Trubetskoy means the human race in general – we might write ‘the species’.

[11] The origin of the concept of sobornost’ is religious, and in this sense it can be translated as ‘cathedrality’,

from the root sobor, ‘cathedral, synod’; but as its use exceeds the religious sphere, it may be taken as ‘collective’,

with a particular emphasis on freedom within collectivity.

[12] S. N. Trubetskoy, ‘O prirode cheloveskogo soznaniya’, in Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoy, Sochineniya [‘works’]. Moscow: Mysl’, 1994. p. 575­–576.

[13] Trubetskoy, ‘O prirode’, p.576–77.

[14] ‘O prirode’, p. 572.

[15] Notebooks, p. 12.

[16] Notebooks, p. 11.

[17] Notebooks, p. 50.

[18] Notebooks, p. 94.

[19] ‘O prirode’,  p. 592.

[20] Notebooks, p. 158.

Scriabin talk by Dr. Lindsey Macchiarella (USA)

Historical musicologist Dr. Lindsey Macchiarella (USA) has agreed to record for the Association a paper entitled ‘Skryabin and Wagner: a Reception Study’ which she delivered at the Scriabin@150 conference last summer (see our report of the conference). Dr. Macchiarella is an expert on Scriabin and the ideas behind his music. Her doctoral dissertation was on ‘Skryabin’s Prefatory Action: Libretto, Sketches, and Divine Unity’ (2016) and she spent several months studying at Moscow State University and researching in the archives of the Memorial Museum of A. N. Scriabin, Moscow. She refers in her talk to evidence collected during that time. She is now on the professorial faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso. Dr. Macchiarella is an expert and original communicator, and her erudite and thought-provoking talk, recorded at her own apartment in El Paso, is delivered with wit and illustrated with excellent, original artwork.

Hupfeld Piano Roll Recordings


Scriabin made two series of piano roll recordings: for Hupfeld (1908) and for Welte (1910). The Welte recordings are now well-known, with more than one good transfer having been made. The Hupfeld recordings are much less commonly heard and are more problematic, as the reproducing mechanism requires human agency to bring the performance alive by means of nuance. When this is done with the artistry of Rex Lawson of the Pianola Institute, the result is convincing and lifelike, and so it is a great advantage to the listening public that these rolls have been recorded by him and Denis Hall on Denis’ excellent Steck reproducing grand piano.

The works played by Scriabin and re-created by Rex Lawson are:

Etude in Ab, Op. 8/8

Feuillet d’Album, Op. 45/1

Mazurka in F minor, Op. 25/1

Mazurka in E minor, Op. 25/3  

Mazurka in F#, Op. 40/2  

Poème in F#, Op. 32/1

Poème in D, Op. 32/2

Prelude in C# minor, Op. 11/10

Preludes in Gb and Eb minor, Op. 11/13-14

Preludes in Db and Bb minor, Op. 17/3-4

Sonata-Fantasie in G# minor, Op. 19

Sonata no. 3 in F# minor, Op. 23

The whole playlist  is at 

And the numbers are also listed separately on the Pianola Institute’s own YouTube page:

with a mention and introductory paragraph on the Pianola Institute’s home web page:

I believe that these performances shed new light on Scriabin’s originality mastery as a performer and demand a hearing!

Simon Nicholls

Scriabin@150: Full Report

The Scriabin @ 150 conference and celebration, Reading, 24-25 September 2022

Professor Kenneth Forkert-Smith (Liverpool), joint editor of Demystifying Scriabin, and Mark Richards, senior deputy head of Queen Anne’s School, Reading, were the joint originators of this intense, informative and inspiring event. This happy combination brought about a close collaboration by the school staff in technical back-up, providing unfailing support for many copiously illustrated lectures and a number of participations via Zoom. The school buildings and grounds are exceptionally beautiful. In order to fit a rich programme of events into two days, two, sometimes three lecture rooms were used, and two or three talks would happen simultaneously, which made for some hard choices; but eventually all the talks will be made available on video recordings. We had speakers from Korea, Germany, America, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Denmark, Serbia, Italy, France, Armenia, Hong Kong (via Zoom) and Hungary, as well as the UK, and many performances took place within the framework of the talks, so that the living music was always in our ears. In addition there was an extremely fine evening performance of Scriabin’s early works by Anita D’Attillis, the school’s outstanding staff pianist:

Sonatas nos. 2 and 3. 2 Poèmes op. 32. Etudes C sharp minor op. 2 no.1; D sharp minor op 8 no. 12.

Here is a list of the presenters and summaries of their subjects:

Session 1a: Ties and Influences

  • Jared Redmond (Seoul National University)

Korsakov scales, the Mystic chord  and Scriabin’s influence on harmony in the 1920s Soviet avant-garde

It was demonstrated that what was claimed by Roslavets as a ‘new’ system was in fact an adaptation of Scriabin’s mature technique.  A similar influence can be shown in the music of Mosolov and Protopopov.

  • Richard Louis Gillies (Universities of Glasgow and Manchester)

The ocean in a grain of salt: Scriabin and the art of fragment

The dichotomy in Scriabin’s creation between gigantism and a love of the miniature was shown to be resolved by his use of the ‘fragment’ as a small work which yet implies something greater; a highly compact, fluid, and unpredictable form of expression.

  • Simon Nicholls (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, retired)

Scriabin and language

Scriabin viewed art as a single unified expression in which music was a link in the chain of meaning. Language was important at early and late stages. Letters and notebooks reveal his tastes and predilections. Contemporary literary influences were examined and there was speculation as to how Scriabin’s interest in a ‘new language’ and with the poetry of Khlebnikov might have combined with his way of fragmenting Blavatsky’s ‘significant word’ Oeaohoo in Prometheus  to lead to a further stage of zaum words combined with music.

  • Wendelin Bitzan (Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf)

Scriabin and Medtner: latent influences and intercommunities

These two composers are opposites in style and in temperament, and yet there are analogous structures in melodic invention and harmony to be found subcutaneously.

Particular attention was paid to some of the Medtner skazki and songs and certain of the poèmes of Scriabin: opp. 32, 34 and 36.

Session 1B: Forces and Motion

  • Ildar Khannanov (Peabody Institute and Johns Hopkins University USA) (via Zoom)

From unknown Yavorski to Mysterious Scriabin

Yavorski was among the first theorists of Scriabin’s music.  His work is little understood in the West, but a project by Kompozitor Edition, ‘Unknown Yavorsky’, is planning to publish many of his early and unknown papers. His theory may prove applicable to many kinds of contemporary music.

  • Inessa Bazayev (Louisiana State University)

The Scriabin tremor and its role in his oeuvre

An approach from the angle of disability studies and hermeneutics. As a student Scriabin injured his hand. This led to the topic of struggle against difficulty becoming central to his work. Further, a ‘sigh’ motive of regret developed into an  oscillating semitonal motive that became central to his musical style.

  • Wei-Ling Cheong (Chinese University of Hong Kong) (via Zoom)

Scriabin’s Metric and Rhythmic Modernism

The analysis by Messiaen of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring shows many affinities with Scriabin’s elusive use of rhythm. By applying its criteria some approach may be made to an understanding of how rhythmic elements combine with Scriabin’s ‘chord-centre’ technique, ‘the paradox of motion within non-motion’.

  • Lance Russell (Dallas College) (via Zoom)

Enigmatic voice-leading in Scriabin’s Three pieces op.52

An investigation of quasi-Schenkerian Urlinien in these works, treated  as composed-out motivic structures providing a ‘bedrock’ (Scriabin) and linking tertian harmonies which articulate the structure. A connection is made between Scriabin’s guiding notion of the Will and Schenker’s Tonwille, the ‘will’ of the individual note.

Session 2B: Performance and Interpretation

  • Laura Granero (University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna)

Scriabin plays Scriabin (recital)

The Scriabin piano rolls were re-examined through audio-visual analysis and using the invention of the Disklavier, whereby it is possible, for example, to play only one hand while the recording plays the other. Experience drawn from these experiments has been used in developing interpretations of other works not recorded by the composer.

  • James Kreiling (Guildhall School of Music)

Lecture-recital: Deceptive beauty – poetic origins, music and performance.

Oh Beauty! Dost thou come from Heaven or from Hell?

(Baudelaire, Hymn to Beauty, 1857)

An examination of the dichotomy between desire and danger in Scriabin’s conception of beauty, the Feminine Principle, tracing his approach through Baudelaire and Shelley to the mythical figures of Ondine, the Sirens and the Rusalka. Examples include the Sixth and Ninth Sonatas and the miniatures Masque and Etrangeté.

Session 2B: Function, Scale, Referentiality

  • Chris Williams (Duke University)

The Harmonic Multiverse: Harmonic Qualia in Scriabin

Three sources: Matt Chiu and Lewin on the discrete Fourier transform, and Ian Quinn on equal-tempered harmony, were used to approach a late work by Scriabin and the mapping of harmonic qualia. Quinn has constructed a novel insight into possible hearings of Scriabin.

Scriabin’s works, in their turn, may help to explain the elusive and gnomic qualities of the discrete Fourier transform itself.

  • Keith Salley (Shenandoah University)

Functional conflation and referentiality in Scriabin’s early works

A little-explored relation between Scriabin’s early and late styles was shown in the ambiguous use of chords ^1, ^2, ^4 and ^5 (often with the added ^6) and their transposition and arrangement to involve the maximum number of notes common between them, and the similarity between this practice in the earlier music and the use of Scriabin’s later ‘mystic’ chords, which may function as tonics but which have the structure of dominants. This led into a wider study of referentiality in its mimetic, intra-oeuvre and structural aspects.

  • Adrian Childs (University of Georgia, Athens)

Transpositional development, pitch-class invariance, and acoustic signalling in late Scriabin

The acoustic collection (sometimes known as the ‘Bartok’ scale), unlike the octatonic and whole-tone scales, is not symmetrical and can give the listener a foothold amid the multiple ambiguities of Scriabin’s compositional style. From this observation have been derived a number of strategies for the understanding and analysis of Scriabin’s ambiguities and transpositional developments, and a method of graphic modelling of his ‘transformational voice -leading.’

  • Vasilis Kallis (University of Nikosia)

On Scriabin’s transitional period (1903-1908): from harmonic function to scalar quality

This period, which coincides with the composer’s interest in the music of Liszt and Wagner and the spiritual philosophies of Blavatsky, shows the gradual invasion of Scriabin’s music by his preferred post-tonal harmonic and scalar structures, and an increasing haziness in the tonality. Three attributes are noticeable: the concentration on tonic, dominant and Neapolitan functions, articulation of variable scale degrees, and the increasing equivalence of local root with local tonic. Thus the primary tonal functions are pared down to ‘I-quality’ and ‘V-quality’. Scriabin looked to the future with tools ‘forged in the past’.

  • Mark Johnson (University of Chicago)

(Black) Mass and erotic charge: Peter Rowlands’s physics in Scriabin’s 9th sonata.

An analogy was drawn between the Nilpotent Quantum Mechanics of Peter Rowlands and the inner workings of Scriabin’s ‘Black Mass’ sonata. Rowland theorises, starting from Newton’s Third Law of Movement, that the totality of mass/energy in the universe must be zero. By an analogy between quantum entanglement and the physiology of expectation and

eroticism, the dynamics of the total energy of the Ninth Sonata can be shown to be driven by a similar totality of zero – the silence with which all musical works end, but a silence ‘constructed’ by their content.

  • Alexander Jakobidze-Gitman (University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany)

Dread and fascination as the primary affects in late Scriabin

In his late music Scriabin was concerned with evoking non-Christian mystery cults. Associated with these is the study by Rudolf Otto on The Idea of the Holy (1917)

In which the term numinous is coined for the sacred sphere, which is seen as both terrifying and fascinating. Scriabin’s harmonic and acoustic experiments and studies can be fruitfully studied in the light of this concept.

Session 3A: The Wagnerian legacy

  • Ivana Medic (Institute of Musicology, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

Scriabin’s and Schoenberg’s approach to Gesamtkunstwerk

The two composers mentioned each had their own vision of the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner. With Scriabin it was the Mystery, which was never completed but which towered as a concept over all his output – it was proposed that he was a proto-pioneer of conceptual art. Schoenberg’s contribution to the concept was Die glückliche Hand, which, despite its numerous innovations, was not performed until 1924 as a consequence of the Great War. When it appeared, there was a new social and cultural climate in existence. These developments and transformations of Wagner’s concept were compared and contrasted.

  • David Haas (Hodgson School of Music/UGA)

Scriabin’s Leitmotivic technique: the progress of a method

Building on Wagnerian scholars such as Dahlhaus and Stein and more recent theoretical work on the Wagnerian Leitmotiv in a context outside opera, Scriabin’s increasing use of this

device from the Divin poème and the Fourth Sonata on was investigated.  His motives, terse and highly expressive, were conceived in this discussion as musical symbols of cognitive content in an evolving context of extra-musical signification, as typically linear, unstable successions of 5–7 notes within a tonal system, and finally as  a set of musical symbols representing human emotions – symbols and emotions being equally susceptible to transformation. Examples were drawn from the Third Sonata,  poèmes from 1903 and a number of preludes, and the significance of their use for works to come was emphasised.

Marina Lupishko (Ruhr University Bochum)

An ‘Artist-hero’: Scriabin’s visions of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the context of the early

Russian avant-garde

The Gesamtkunstwerk vision is both artistic and political/religious. David Roberts has traced its history from 1789, but the post-Wagner history of the concept has been little investigated. The Russian spiritual lineage and the context of other early avant-garde projects, together with the work of Ciurlionis, form a useful background for the study of Scriabin’s own aspirations.

Session 3B: Past and Future: the Late Works

  • Ezra Bartz (Texas State University)

Lecture-recital: From idea to practice: Scriabin’s harmonic principle in the Eighth Sonata.

On the basis of Scriabin’s theory of the identity of melody and harmony, Dr. Bartz demonstrated the unfolding of phrase and form from the work’s fundamental harmony, stated at the beginning. The transposition and chromatic alterations of this harmony create a sense of progression throughout. After the strictness of the Seventh Sonata, this process freed Scriabin to move towards the extended chromatic harmony of the Ninth. A simple but illuminating device was used: a score was projected during the performance in which every bar was coloured according to a system which showed the changing tonalities/roots.

  • Luigi Verdi (Conservatorio Santa Cecilia, Rome)

From Scriabin’s Prometheus chord to kaleidocycles and tiling canons

Scriabin’s method in Prometheus of linking identical chords by tritones or minor thirds can be developed into complete cycles of such transpositions of chords based on a diminished seventh. These cycles were shown in Professor Verdi’s own elegant coloured diagrams. Tiling canons were demonstrated; in these, short excerpts can be combined in the traditional canonic techniques, doubling being avoided. These possibilities of transformation were described by  Professor Verdi as ‘almost alchemical’ and the aggregations created by them as Chemusic – a synthesis of music and chemistry.

  • Christoph Flamm (Heidelberg University)

The future of the past? Diatonic harmonic structures in Scriabin’s late sonatas

Earlier research (Dernova, Eberle) concentrated on harmony; more recent work has focused on scalar structures (Hakobian, 2015). Attention has rarely been given to the tonal, triadic elements which remain in Scriabin’s structures. Professor Flamm discussed the use of such harmonies in the Sonatas 6–10 from the point of view of their dramaturgical function, the meaning of the placing of such chords and their implications for the return of diatonic rather than symmetrical melodic lines, e.g. in the Eighth Sonata. ‘The poetical world of the late sonatas […] seem[s] to re-interpret elements of the musical past as means of the future.’

Session 4A: The Mystery

  • Ali Sansori (Palacky University,Olomuc, Czech Republic

Scriabin and Cosmism

The religio-mystical atmosphere in which Scriabin grew up contained a strong element of what became known as Cosmism in the work of Solovyov, Fedorov and Berdyayev. The paper defined the movement identified as Russian Cosmism and showed how Scriabin transformed these ideas into his own unique philosophy.

  • Hannah McLaughlin (Princeton)

Scriabin’s Utopian ‘Mysterium’

The Mysterium and its associated philosophies were considered alongside twentieth-century utopian theory, the idea proposed by Ruth Levitas as ‘method utopia’ and the role of music in communicating impossibility and realizing imaginary social landscapes.

  • Manon Fabre (CNSMDP, ENS, Paris

“Complexity is the path to simplicity” – about Alexander Scriabin’s Five Preludes op. 74

At the end of Scriabin’s life his unrealised Mystery caused endless discussion. His actual last composition, though, is a set of miniatures. The sketches for the Preliminary Act contain a number of self-quotations, particularly from these preludes. In this paper the preludes, unprecedentedly condensed and rigorous, were examined in relation to the unrealised project and as a musical prism through which Scriabin’s last creative period can be understood.

  • Mariam Asatryan (independent researcher/Institute of Arts, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia)

The fourth dimension in Scriabin’s experience

Scriabin’s spoken statements and his writings published in Russkie propilei show that his mystical ideas came to him through music and were confirmed in esoteric teachings. These ecstatic  experiences led him to mystical sensations of contact with the Absolute, which inspired further creation in a cyclical process. His drawing  published in Russkie Propilei seems to evoke this process, combing space and time in a four-dimensional model.

The writings and the drawing were interpreted in this paper from the points of view of the philosophies of Solovyov and Dane Rudhyar. 

Session 4B: Scriabin’s Reception

  • Akos Windhager (PhD, Budapest)

Russian Bartok: Hungarian reception of Scriabin in the twentieth century

The response of the Hungarian public, critics and musicologicalists to Scriabin in the twentieth century was examined. It became clear that the orchestral works created interest, despite infrequent performance. In particular a performance of The Poem of Ecstasy conducted by Issay Dobrowen in 1935 awakened musicological interest: from being regarded as a follower of Strauss and Debussy, Scriabin was re-assessed as ‘The Russian Bartok. Post 1990 interest focused on the influence of Liszt, in artistic and spiritual aspects, on a Scriabin now recognised as autonomous.

  • Akvile Stuart (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)

Unfitting introduction to a tea party? English critical reactions to Scriabin’s Prometheus, 1913–23

The Times published letters from members of the public asking to hear Prometheus twice in one evening, in the interests of comprehension. This was done, but the majority of the musical press was sceptical, exhibiting an amused attitude of superiority very typical of the British musical press of the period: conservative, cautious, profoundly insular.

  • Lindsey Macchiarella (University of Texas at El Paso)

Skryabin and Wagner: A Reception Study

The idea that Scriabin is an outlier of musical history grew after his death, partly under the influence of Boris Schloezer. During his lifetime, though, Scriabin was discussed in conjunction Wagner, Strauss, Debussy and Schoenberg. Initially he fostered the Wagner connection but later strove to overcome it. Whether he was regarded as an extender of canonical Romantic works or as someone who had left the concept of music behind depended on the commentator’s position as a supporter or detractor of Scriabin.

  • Natalia Gorbunova (A. K. Glazunov Conservatory, Petrozavodsk)

Scriabin’s legacy reputation in USSR: classic or outsider?

The principle material for this study is the periodical Sovetskaya muzyka  in the period 1933-1953. In general Scriabin’s high professional status and authority was confirmed, despite a degree of controversy about the later music, which is sometimes described as ‘delusional’. This ‘inconsistency’ meant it was not possible to  accept him as a ‘classic’.

Session 4c: Flight, dance, and time

  • Areg Mekhakyan (A.N. Scriabin Memorial Museum, Moscow)

Secular and sacred dance in the oeuvre of composer A. N. Skryabin

Starting in the early compositions with secular dance, the dance element in Scriabin moves through lyrical dance themes in the middle period to sacred dance in the last music. The Dionysiac element in this dance character was recognised by Vyacheslav Ivanov, and Scriabin’s meeting with the Sufi musician Inayat Khan enhanced his awareness of the sacred whirling dances of the Sufis.  The Greek ekstasis (for Scriabin, ‘dematerialisation’) and the Sufi wajd are cognate.

  • Kristen Topham (Shenandoah University)

Crossmodal creation: Light and Sonata no. 4 op. 30

Interpretation of the emotional content Sonata no. 4 can be made clearer through a combination of movement and light. The aim is to introduce a wider use of a multi-media approach to Scriabin’s music, taking the cue from his own initiatives.

  • Natalie Pang (Eastman School of Music)

Performing the flight topic in Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata

Flight, a central theme for Scriabin, becomes a topic in his middle and later works. This topic can only be adequately expressed in the Fourth Sonata by the use of the movements, leaping and staccato; a physical embodiment as a complement to the structural and poietic analytical modalities.

Keynote Address: Marina Frolova-Walker

Professor Walker gave a fluent, typically entertaining but penetrating account of Scriabin’s character and his relations on those around him, based on a re-reading of the composer’s letters.

Posters were exhibited by D. Mus student David Mott (Southampton) on Neo-Riemannian structures and musical affect in Scriabin’s Poème languide and by Béatrice Isidora Beer promoting The evolution of harmonic style in Scriabin’s oeuvre by Joseph Beer.

Report compiled by Simon Nicholls. The accounts of the speakers’ contributions were compiled from their own summaries, but S.N. takes full responsibility for any inaccuracies.


International Scriabin 150 Festival

Friday, November 11, 2022
10:00-10:30 am EST Welcome from the SSA Executive Board and from international Scriabin societies
10:30-11:30 am Lecture: “Scriabin at 150,” by Harlow Robinson (USA)
11:30 am-12:00 pm Presentation: Live Art and Poetry inspired by Scriabin’s piano music by Bobbi Bicker, Yoon Seok Shin, Sherry Grant
12:00-12:30 pm Lecture: “Exploring the Relation Between Color and Harmony in Scriabin’s Music,” by Martin Kaptein (founder, Scriabin Club, Netherlands)
12:30-1:00 pm Lunch break
1:00-1:30 pm Recital: Anna Fedorova (Pianist, Ukraine)
1:30-2:00 pm Lecture: “Philosophy and Scriabin,” by David Proud (Philosopher, UK)
2:00-3:00 pm Lecture Recital: “Scriabin’s Opus 11 Preludes Revisited,” by James Palmer (SSA Board) 3:00-3:30 pm Presentation: “Pioneering Scriabin Recordings,” by Farhan Malik (SSA Board):
3:30-4:00 pm Recital: Svetozar Ivanov (Pianist, Bulgaria/USA)
4:00-4:30 Lecture: “Scriabin & Synesthesia,” by Sean Day (Neuroscientist, USA)
4:30-6:00 pm Young Artist Recital
Saturday, November 12, 2022
10:00-10:30 am EST Recital: Matthew Bengtson (SSA Board)
10:30-11:30 am Lecture: “Scriabin’s Compositional Language & Structure,” by Prof. Jay Reise (Composer, USA)
11:30 am-12:00 pm Haiku Readings, various presenters
12:00-12:30 pm. Lecture: “Poetry on Synesthesia,” by Owen Bullock (Haiku Poet, Australia)
12:30-1:00 pm Lunch break
1:00-1:30 pm Recital: Dmitry Rachmanov (SSA Board)
1:30-3:30 pm Piano Master Class with Anatole Leikin (live zoom)
3:30-4:00 pm Lecture on Theosophy by Murray Stentiford (Theosophical Society, New Zealand)
4:00-4:30 pm Lecture: “Injury Prevention for Pianists,” by Rae de Lisle (New Zealand)
4:30-5:00 pm Presentation: Scriabin and Jazz by Tomás Jonsson (Pianist, USA)
5:00 – 6:00pm Panel discussion: “Scriabin at 150,” including mementos from the History of SSA
Sunday, November 13, 2022
10:00-10:30 am EST Lecture-Recital: Alexey Chernov (Pianist, Russia) 10:30-11:30 am Lecture: “Untempered Reality: Russian Musical Messianism from Aleksandr Scriabin to Ivan Wyschnegradsky,” by Prof. Rebecca Mitchell (Canada/USA)
11:30-12:00 pm Presentation: “Orchestral Transcriptions of Scriabin Works,” by Thomas Goss (New Zealand)
12:00-12:30 pm Recital: Mikhail Voskresensky (Pianist, Russia)
12:30-1:00 pm Lunch break
1:00-1:30 pm Lecture-Recital: Bruno Vlahek (Croatia)
1:30-3:30 pm Piano Master Class with Jerome Lowenthal (live zoom)
3:30 – 5:00pm Film Premiere: Scriabin in the Himalayas by Jarek Kotomski (filmographer, UK) ft. Matthew Bengtson
5:00-6:00 pm Panel discussion: Final Thoughts, Q&A (live zoom)

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. 

Greetings from the Scriabin Foundation

(See translation below)

Уважаемые коллеги!

Приветствую Вас в связи с открытием международной научной конференции, посвященной 150 – летию со дня рождения А.Н. Скрябина .Отрадно, что и в новом тысячелетии имя и творчество великого русского композитора пользуется большим интересом в Великобритании.

Скрябин бывал в Лондоне в 1914 году. 14 марта ( по новому стилю) он впервые выступил в Queens Hall. Были исполнены его симфонические произведения с оркестром под управлением Г. Вуда. – Фортепианный концерт ор. 20 и симфоническая поэма «Прометей», ор.60. ( Поэма Огня). Партию фортепиано исполнял сам автор.

В своём сольном концерте, состоявшемся 20 марта, Скрябин играл Вторую, Третью и Девятую сонаты, восемь прелюдий ор.11 и пьесы ор.ор. 51, 56, 59, и 63.

В интервью газете «Standart» , опубликованном 24 марта 1914 года, А.Н. Скрябин подчеркивал: «Я был удивлён и тронут до глубины души тем, что более длинные, сложные композиции, которые я играл в конце концерта ,сорвали больше аплодисментов, чем более простые, которые я играл в начале. Критики были добры ко мне, хотя один-два притворялись, что не понимают этих сложных композиций. Но в том, что можно назвать коллективной душой зрителя, было что-то, что интуитивно чувствовало значение происходящего. Это указывает на высокий уровень музыкальной культуры зрителей.».

К сожалению, дальнейшим планам композитора не суждено было осуществиться. Через год, 27 апреля 1915 года  А.Н. Скрябин покинул земной мир.

Сегодня, в юбилейный Скрябинский год, музыка А.Н. Скрябина звучит по всему миру. Впервые за последние десятилетия исполнены все фортепианные и симфонические произведения великого русского композитора. С его творчеством познакомилось множество молодежи. Проведены масштабные фестивали, конференции, конкурсы. А это свидетельство неугасаемого интереса к творчеству А.Н. Скрябина. Важную роль в пропаганде наследия великого русского композитора  играет деятельность Британской Скрябинской Ассоциации.  Успехов вам, уважаемые коллеги!

С признательностью,

Александр Серафимович Скрябин – президент «Фонда А.Н. Скрябина», почетный председатель «Британской Скрябинской ассоциации».

From the Scriabin Foundation –

the regional social foundation devoted to the creative legacy of Scriabin.

Respected colleagues!

I send you greetings in connection with the opening of the international conference dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Scriabin’s birth. It gives me great pleasure that in the new millennium both the name and the work of this great Russian composer arouse great interest in Britain.

Scriabin spent some time in Britain in London during 1914. On March 14th (new style, that is to say, by Western dating) he made his first appearance in the Queen’s Hall. Some of his orchestral works were played under the direction of Henry Wood. In the piano concerto op. 20 and the symphonic poem Prometheus op. 60, the ‘Poem of Fire’, the solo piano part was performed by the composer.

In his solo concerts on March 20th and 26th Scriabin played  the Second, Third and Ninth Sonatas, eight preludes from op.11, and pieces from opp. 51, 56, 59 and 63.

In an interview in the Standard, published March 24th 1914, Scriabin emphasised:

                I was astonished and touched to the heart at my concert that the longer and more complicated compositions which I played towards the end received more applause than the simple ones at the beginning. The critics have been kind to me, though one or two professed their inability to understand those more complex compositions. Yet there is something in what I might call the collective soul of the audience which intuitively felt the meaning, something which points to a high musical culture on the part of the public.

Unfortunately, the composer’s further plans were not destined to be realised. A year later, on April 27th 1915, Scriabin departed from this world.

Today, in his jubilee year, Scriabin’s music is played all over the world. For the first time, in the present decade, all the symphonic works and everything written for the piano by the great Russian composer has been performed. Many young people have got to know his works. Standard-setting festivals, conferences and competitions have been established, bearing witness to an inextinguishable interest in Scriabin’s work. The activity of the British Scriabin Association plays an important role in publicising the legacy of this great Russian composer. My respected colleagues, I wish you every success!

With gratitude,

Alexander Serafimovich Scriabin. President of the Russian ‘Scriabin Foundation’, honorary president of the British ‘Scriabin Association’.