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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’.

Yulii Engel Biography of Scriabin Chapter IV

IV. First Strides


(up to Scriabin’s professorship at the Conservatoire)

On the threshold of independent life – Scriabin’s self-confidence – External conditions of his life – The Rachmanov family – E. K. Rozenov ­­–  Allegro Appasionato, op. 4 – Fantasia for piano and orchestra – First works published (by Jurgenson) – Scriabin and Belyayev become acquainted – their trip abroad – Scriabin in Paris – First appearances in Russia –  A. K. Lyadov – Natalya Sekerina –  M. K. F. – Vera Isakovich – Scriabin marries Vera Isakovich – their journey – Prizes from ‘a secret lover of music’ – Return to Russia.

On leaving the Conservatoire Scriabin was in that difficult position in which every performer finds himself when he first swims out independently into the sea of life.  From the narrow atmosphere of an establishment where, one way or another, the specific gravity of every young talent has been defined, where everyone knows him and values him, the performer comes to land in a new, broad arena where every stride must be fought for. In order to recognise a new performer, one must first get to know him, i.e. must go to hear him – and, as we all know, the public only likes to go where the public is already going.

Scriabin must have especially felt the difficulty of such a situation, as he was already distinctly conscious of his unique gifts at that time, a consciousness which with the passing years was to grow ever more intensive and keen, finally growing into a Titanic pride – pathological, one might say in a different case.

‘At the age of twenty I was already convinced that I would do something great’, Scriabin would say in mature years. ‘It’s curious, because then I was a cheeky little boy with nothing to fall back on except self-confidence.’

This inner, unyielding self-assurance was allied in Scriabin to unusually soft, delicate external manners, which, especially in the composer’s younger years, could in the first minute even produce an impression of shyness or confusion on those who did not know him.  But despite this, his haughty self-confidence made a reputation of excessive egotism for him with many people. For example, an opinion of this kind is expressed of the young Scriabin in Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Chronicle’: ‘a star of the first magnitude, somewhat warped, a poseur, an egoist.’

In any case, self-assurance on this level could not at the very first stages find a broad sympathetic response, which, to be sure, prepared personal disappointments for Scriabin. But on the other hand that very same self-assurance also lightened these disappointments. Thanks to it Scriabin never wavered.

He might change his path, renounce one thing, become enthusiastic over another, but he was always filled with the deep conviction that at that moment what he was doing was the best, the most important, the most splendid. And if he met with a doubting or rejecting attitude in others, then he always judged the other person to be in error and lost his regard for that person. It was so, as we have seen, with Arensky, and with many others with whom Scriabin associated himself and with whom he parted on his life’s path.

And here getting to know Belyayev well played a major role for Scriabin. In Belyayev Scriabin soon found not only a generous publisher and patron but also an astute and warm supporter of his talent – a combination which has not so often been found on the path of gifted young people. But Scriabin had to take his first artistic strides, in the professions both of composer and of pianist, before his acquaintance with Belyayev.

At that time (on graduating from the Conservatoire) he was living with his aunt and grandmother, on the Ostozhenka, in the same flat and in just the same way as when he was still at the Conservatoire. Scriabin’s way of life remained more or less solitary until his marriage, when he parted with his grandmother and aunt and began his own domestic life.

After the Conservatory the right hand which he had ‘worn out by playing’ continued to give him pain for a fairly long while. At that time (1893) he wore red woollen long-sleeved mittens on both hands; they were obviously home-knitted and immediately caught the eye.

When playing in public, he pointed out his right hand to the audience before beginning the performance, as if asking their indulgence. He was thin, pale, green in complexion and looked ill in general. Later he recovered and began to look better.

E.K. Rozenov, who had got to know Scriabin well sometime after the latter’s graduation from the Conservatoire, describes his domestic surroundings at that time thus:

‘Family life with the Scriabins was a patriarchy. He was not keen to entertain at home; he was too embarrassed by the fact that the occupants of the house were all women. He preferred to acquaint people with his music elsewhere. I first made his acquaintance at the house of D. S. Shor,[1]with whom Scriabin was studying at that time (1887), according to an arrangement  made with Safonov before he left. After one of these evening lessons with Shor Scriabin played his Etude op. 8 no. 2, in a simpler version than the one published later, and two mazurkas, of which one was the E major [op. 3 no. 4].

Scriabin was particularly fond of visiting the Rachmanovs. This was almost a complete family: father, mother, one son and two daughters were there. Scriabin introduced me to the young Rachmanov (Alexander Sergeevich) and I started to visit them from that time.’

The Rachmanovs were living at the Plyushikhs’. These were people of means. Among other things they had a billiards room, and Scriabin loved to play a little billiards. He was a great friend of Rachmanov; they committed various pranks together, and indeed they were not averse to getting thoroughly, reeling drunk.

Scriabin was similarly friendly about that time with Nikolai Konstantinovich Averino.[2]

Scriabin sometimes played his own works in the evenings at the Rachmanovs’, for example the Allegro Appassionato which was written at that time and was later published as op. 4.

This Allegro was to have been the first movement of a sonata, of which Scriabin was not able to write the finale; thus, it stands alone. The first version of this Allegro, as E. K. Rozenov categorically affirms, goes back to 1887. He says that the Allegro Apassionato op. 4 differs from the original Allegro of the projected sonata in the significant expansion of the second subject area in both its appearances, which was connected with other expansions and additions. In Rozenov’s opinion, the Allegro Appassionato only gained by these subsequent interpolations; he himself pointed this out to Scriabin, also asking him to write down the Sonata to the end. But Scriabin did not ‘heed the prayers’ of Rozenov.[3]

A copy of the Allegro Appassionato is in Rozenov’s possession, written out in his hand from the original (with the date April 4 1894, i.e. before this piece was in print.)  He wrote it out in order to perform it in a concert for a circle of amateurs of Russian music (in Gunst’s house, at Ostozhenka.) By the way, this was the first performance of music by Scriabin by another artist than himself. (At about the same time I heard the Allegro Appassionato performed by Rozenov in a concert given by a Conservatoire student, the cellist Dubinsky, at the Conservatoire’s hall at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Y. Engel’.)[4] Scriabin looked over Rozenov’s copy of the Allegro Appassionata and made corrections to it.

On this occasion, Rozenov relates, Scriabin ‘wrote “to E. K. Rozenov”’ on the manuscript, describing this as a dedication. But he never, before or after this, put into print the names of those to whom he dedicated his works – probably on principle, so that these pieces would not be mistaken for Gelegenheitsstücke [occasional works].

[35] Rozenov, though, does have the following manuscript of Scriabin from that time: a fantasia for piano and orchestra (the orchestra part arranged for second piano), completely finished, though perhaps not fully revised. This fantasia, unknown until now, is in a single movement. Some things in it (for example, the types of figuration) are related to the Allegro Appassionato op. 4.

It was not long before this, in 1893, that Scriabin’s works appeared in print. These were short piano pieces, for the most part written, and some of them even finished, while Scriabin was still at the Conservatoire: op. 1 (a waltz), op. 2 (three pieces), op. 3 (ten mazurkas), op. 5 (two nocturnes). They were published in Moscow by P. Jurgenson.

In Evgeny Gunst’s short book [A. N. Skryabin i ego tvorchestvo, ‘Scriabin and his works’, 1915] it is stated that this all happened while Scriabin was still at the Conservatoire. If this were the case, it would indicate an unusual success in composition for Scriabin while still within the Conservatory, not to mention the break with Arensky, who had not allowed Scriabin to graduate in this course. In actual fact, this was not so. Documents establish the genuine date which is given above.  Like nearly all beginning composers at that time, Scriabin received no fee for his first published works.[5] But they attracted general attention. The composer’s talent, bright, though not yet defined, could be discerned in these works; their fresh style of pianism, with its Chopinesque refinement, attracted the attention of many people who had not previously known Scriabin’s music or knew it very little.

Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev should be named first among such people. The major role in the history of Russian music played by this patron is well known; he founded Russian concert series, a Russian publishing house, and a fund for the support of Russian composers. A whole circle of composers of the 1880s and 1890s was even named after Belyayev. This circle was consisted of Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Lyadov, the Blumenfeld brothers, N. Sokolov, Vitol, Dyutsh, also Victor Stasov and others. This is understandable, for, if Belyayev was not the musical head of the circle, he was without doubt its centre, and it was in his house that the group usually met. This rich ‘business-guest’, a cordial and hospitable householder, loved music wholeheartedly; kind, direct to the point of harshness, sometimes of coarseness, he could seem to others like a petty tyrant, but also had a soft-hearted side. An original, uncomplicated personality, a fiery dedication [36] to art, striving to spend one’s riches not extravagantly but as a means to the achievement of an elevated, non-mercenary goal – these were the especially attractive qualities of Belyayev.

Belyayev had a high opinion of Scriabin’s works from his very first acquaintance with them. He was especially supported in this by Lyadov, who adored Chopin and straight away saw in Scriabin Chopin’s successor, so to speak. But when Belyayev heard Scriabin in his first concert in Petersburg (spring 1894), where among other things some of the op. 8 etudes were played, still in manuscript at that time, and among them the D sharp minor, he was carried away with enthusiasm and hastened to get to know the composer himself,[6] proposed to put the services of his publishing house at Scriabin’s disposal and swiftly headed for Moscow, in order to get to know Scriabin’s family there.

Scriabin was very eager to accept Belyayev’s offer: in the first place, Belyayev undertook to publish all Scriabin’s works, not just the short ones, but also the large-scale ones; in the second place, Belyayev was offering a fee which exceeded Scriabin’s expectations; in fact, Scriabin, in confusion, even proposed that the fee be lowered; and thirdly, the unusual personality of this business man and propagandist of Russian music was also attractive to Scriabin. Without his family, which as before managed all Scriabin’s affairs, he did not want to undertake anything decisively.  But, of course, the family were also glad of Belyayev’s proposal. Very soon Belyayev established the best of relations with Scriabin’s auntie and granny.

Lyubov Alexandrovna even became, so to speak, the closest intermediary between Scriabin and Belyayev. It was a matter of Scriabin’s being  absent-minded, disinclined to be orderly; he was careless in correcting his manuscripts, omitted to date his letters and in general did not like writing letters; Belyayev, on the contrary, as a genuine businessman, demanded punctuality, thoroughness and orderliness. From this foundation arose misunderstandings, until Lyubov Alexandrovna took upon herself the obligation of a responsible correspondent, who kept Belyayev au courant with Scriabin’s musical and other affairs.[7]

The large-scale works which had been composed or sketched considerably earlier were the first to be published by Belyayev. These were: the first sonata, op. 6 (started in 1892, appeared 1895), the twelve studies op. 8 (some of these relate to his time at the Conservatoire; they also came out in 1895), the already-mentioned Allegro Appassionato op. 4 and other pieces.

At that time Belyayev immediately started to pay Scriabin a good fee for those days: 200 roubles for the sonata, fifty roubles for a prelude and so on. Scriabin did not need this money for daily necessities. He was unacquainted with need at this time (as in all the years of his youth): after his grandfather’s death, his father gave all that was [37] necessary for his upbringing, and, in addition, Scriabin’s grandmother and aunt lived sufficiently well, if not luxuriously. But a fee provided the possibility (mostly in summer) of living outside Moscow (abroad, in Finland, in Crimea), to travel, ‘to look at people and to show oneself’, which Scriabin loved so much and which was so essential to a young talent.

However, this matter – ‘to show’ Scriabin ‘to people’ – also took over Belyaev’s energies from the beginning. He organised Scriabin’s first big overseas concert tour (1895 and 96), during which he himself accompanied the composer, not abandoning him even on the concert platform. Belyaev’s enormous, heavy figure alongside Scriabin’s small, well-proportioned figure, according to the accounts of people who remember these concerts, produced the impression of an unwieldy case alongside the fragile instrument which had been taken out of it.

Belyaev exhibited Scriabin first to Switzerland (in June 1895 they stayed in Vitznau, on the Vierwaldstättersee,[8]) near to Italy and to the sea; before that they were in Germany (Heidelberg, Dresden and Berlin among other places). Concerts given in 1896 were Germany (Berlina and elsewhere), Belgium (Brussels), Holland (Amsterdam) but mainly in Paris.

In the programme of the first Paris concert (‘piano-récital par Scriabine, pianist-compositeur russe’), in the Salle Erard, January 15th 1896, were: preludes from op. 11, Allegro appassionato op. 4, études from op. 8 (including the D sharp minor), mazurkas, impromptus, nocturne and a Presto (the finale of the second sonata, not yet published). In the following concert (January 18th in the same place) Scriabin played the same pieces for the most part (études, etc.), and some different ones (impromptu à la mazur and others.) In general, the Paris press was sympathetic to Scriabin, some of it ecstatic even.

Eugène George in ‘La libre critique’ (1894, no. 4) wrote of Scriabin: ‘Une nature d’élite, aussi eminent compositeur, que pianiste; aussi intellectuel, comme philosophe; tout nerf et sainte flamme’.  [‘One of the chosen, as eminent a composer as a pianist; as intellectual as a philosopher; all nerve and sacred flame’.]

Gustave Doret wrote: ‘Toutes ses compositions dénotent une personalité incontestable et il dégage de son jeu ce charme si particulier et indéfinissable de[s] Slaves, les premiers pianists du monde. Scriabine – rappelez-vous bien ce nom!’ [‘All his compositions show an indubitable personality and his playing communicates that charm which is so particular and indefinable – the property of the Slavs, the first pianists in the world. Scriabin – remember this name well!] Even Boisard, less favourably disposed, finishes thus (Jan 15 1896): ‘Il y manque le caractère et la personalité… Un écho de Chopin… Somme tout, – il ne faut pas oublier le nom de cet intéressant artiste, qui sûrement ne se laissera pas oublier.’ [‘There is a lack of character and personality… an echo of Chopin… All in all, the name of this interesting artist must not be forgotten; he certainly will not let himself be forgotten.’]

The ‘Guide Musical’ (Jan 19 1896) remarks upon the ‘plus extremes limites de la finesse’ [‘the most extreme limits of finesse’] in Scriabin’s playing.

[38] In general, Scriabin found warm admiration for his talent early on in Paris, and for that reason was eager to go there and spend time there.

During one of these visits (before Scriabin was married) the following curious episode took place. I heard it from Rozenov, who was told of it by Alexander Nikolaevich himself. A musical evening was taking place at the house of a certain musical patron, G. Doret.[9] Various people took part. Among others was some tall scarecrow of a pianist wearing a lilac necktie, with dishevelled hair; while he was playing, a contrivance of special lamps in various colours alternately lit up and dimmed. Scriabin found the music revolting and cacophonous.  When the composer in the lilac necktie approached him, Scriabin repeated to him exactly the same harmonies, but with a softer expressive quality, after showing him some separate, curious but unconnected quartal harmonies. Lilac necktie remarked: ‘I also don’t worry about connections, but just yield entirely to the hypnosis of inspiration, of the colours.’ Scriabin: ‘All that is very well, if a person is distinguished by a higher gift. But everything depends on that “if”.’ During the ensuing conversation Scriabin sat down at the piano, played four bars or so (by Haydn) and asked his interlocutor to repeat them. The ‘scarecrow’ became confused, could not manage and was very embarrassed. On the walk home they discussed what had happened. Lilac necktie begged: ‘Don’t harm me! What should I do? Je suis un pauvre diable and I keep going thanks to the support of M. Doret’ (a protector of decadents and a musical critic.)

I have little information about Scriabin’s early appearances in Russia. Apart from the concert in Petrograd mentioned above, we may also indicate a concert in Moscow, March 11 1895 (études op.8, nocturne in D flat, for the most part preludes which were not understood by the public because of their shortness. The majority of the audience was unresponsive. The nocturne for the left hand had the greatest success); concerts on April 27 in Nizhny Novgorod and October 11 in Odessa, at I.R.P.M, the symphonic society.[10]

The last-mentioned concert is interesting for the fact that it was here that Scriabin first played his piano concerto, just finished that summer. In the programme the following was communicated concerning Scriabin (among other things): ‘besides a negligible quantity of childhood [?] pieces published by Jurgenson, [the following are] printed by Belyayev (list follows).’ On this occasion Scriabin played with very weak tone, owing to an over-fatigued hand. The public only liked the middle movement (variations).

Works by Scriabin soon began to be performed in concerts by other artists: S. Druker (1895),

Ivanovskaya-Zadesskaya (Paris 1896), Joseph Hoffman (from 1897 on) and others. In 1895 Fyodor Koenemann even played Skryabin’s first sonata in his Conservatoire graduation – indeed, he played it every year.[11]

When Scriabin was in Petrograd he stayed with Belyayev, who treated him with fatherly care and tenderness. Later, relations progressed to establishing a custom that on November 23 (Belyayev’s name day) Scriabin went to Petrograd every year and stayed with Belyayev a few days or even a week (Belyayev also celebrated on November 27, the anniversary of the first performances of both Glinka’s operas.)  On these occasions Scriabin, who was always eager to sit down at the piano if people were listening attentively, played a great deal, usually his own works.

Apart from Belyayev himself, other members of the circle also got on well with Scriabin, especially Lyadov. Lyadov adored both Scriabin, with whom he was on familiar ‘ty’ terms, and his music (but only up to op.50.) He would even look through Scriabin’s manuscripts and proofs, which were usually distinguished by a large number of errors, and corrected them, not without curses – which was a rare occurrence for him. Thus, in the second sonata he modified the two bars leading back to the reprise in his own manner, and it was in that condition that they still exist.

At one time, not long after the period of his graduation, Scriabin was assiduously studying Beethoven’s sonatas, principally from the aspect of form, about which he was always strict, as in all technical matters. He was particularly interested in the modulatory plan and the development sections of Beethoven, and in examining these he came to interesting deductions. He discovered that in Beethoven the modulations are always attracted to the tonalities of the scale steps, the development being based on different tonalities from those in the exposition; at that time Scriabin regarded this as exemplary. He came to these deductions, which were new for him,[12] through his own experimentation and study; they were especially dear to him for this reason.

The first experiment in sonata form, the Allegro Appassionato op. 4, was not achieved easily;

Later, things went more smoothly. The second sonata (sonata-fantasia), begun in 1892, was not published until 1897. Scriabin himself said that it was created while under the impression of the sea. The first movement is a quiet southern night by the seashore. In the development the sea is dark, troubled and deep. The section in E major represents caressing moonlight after the darkness. The second movement (Presto) represents the broad expanse of a stormily agitated sea.

The third sonata was not originally the present one in F sharp minor, but a different one in G sharp minor, the ‘Gothic’. It was written approximately in 1895. At that time Scriabin had the intention of composing a few sonatas in various styles. One of them was the ‘Gothic’, written while under the impression of the ruins of a fortress, and was reckoned by [40] the composer to be his ‘third.’ At that time Scriabin played this sonata, almost complete, to Emilii Rozenov. He had no doubts of any sort about it – unless, perhaps, on account of some details of voice leading. Rozenov says that it was an outstanding composition.

One summer (1894 or 1895) Scriabin was visiting the estate of Zenino, which belonged to E. K. Rozenov (near the Lyubertsy station).[13] There he composed, among other things, he composed one mazurka without use of the piano, which was published later. The mazurka op. 3 no. 2 was also composed there; the autograph (which differs slightly from the published version) was preserved by Rozenov.

The romance by Scriabin to his own words (Хотел бы я мечтой прекрасный в твоей душе хоть миг побыть) [recte пожить] [‘Would that I might, as a beautiful dream, live within your soul, if only for a moment’] is dedicated to N. V. S –a.[14] The S. family had a society salon, chief ornament of which was the youthful, lovely and refined N.V.S. (half Italian by descent), who was afterwards married to M. and later to G.[15] Scriabin was seriously in love with her (for several years), and this love was favourably received, though not by N. V.S’ mother, who did not consider Scriabin a ‘match’ for her daughter. When N.V.S. was living on her mother’s estate in the summer (in the Kursk province), she corresponded with Scriabin, sent him dried flowers, which he carried with him and kissed.

In the summer of 1894, when Scriabin was staying with Rozanov, she sent him a letter with an invitation to come to their estate. Scriabin, though, did not go, offended that the invitation did not come from N. V. S’ mother. Rozenov says, despite all this, that the Romance dedicated to N. V. S. is very weak, ‘in officer style’ [like the composition of an army officer who is a musical amateur].[16]

At the time of his travels abroad (with Belyayev, in 1896) S.’s image had long dimmed in Scriabin’s imagination.[17]

Another serious infatuation of Scriabin’s also relates to this period. In Paris he got to know a certain M.K.F., who was living there with her parents. She was brilliant in exterior appearance, a very interesting, educated girl (a Russian).  She became engaged to Scriabin, but they soon parted…

A year later, in 1897, a decisive turning point took place in Scriabin’s life: he married Vera Ivanovna Isakovich.

A young, brilliant pianist who had graduated from Moscow Conservatoire only that spring (with a gold medal), from P. Yu. Pabst’s class,[18] Vera Ivanovna entered the Moscow Conservatoire in the summer of the year in which Scriabin graduated (1892).

They met on December 6th 1893, at a pupils’ evening in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein, where Vera Ivanovna, among others, was playing. At this first meeting, Scriabin said: ‘While you were playing, I was thinking: here at last is a female pianist to whom I can listen [41] with pleasure.’ At that time Vera Ivanovna was staying (as she did throughout her study at the Conservatoire) in the family of Professor Pavel de Schloezer,[19] where she was surrounded, one might say, by a family atmosphere. Scriabin was also a visitor. Safonov brought him there for the first time with the words: ‘I have brought to you my treasure.’

Later Scriabin began to meet with Vera Ivanovna more often; on these occasions he played his compositions to her, told her of his aims in composition, and also – with that frankness which was always characteristic of him – of the affections and despairs of his heart.

In the summer of 1896 Scriabin proposed marriage to Vera Ivanovna, declaring that it was time to see all those past romances as over and done with. The proposal was accepted, and from October 1896 they were already regarded as an engaged couple. The wedding took place in 1897 in Nizhny-Novgorod, Vera Ivanovna’s home town where her father lived.

After the wedding the young people set off for the Crimea. In October Scriabin played his piano concerto, which he had just finished (see above) in Odessa, after which the couple travelled overseas, where they stayed till the following year.

They spent about six months in Paris. All that winter Scriabin felt ill physically: frequent headaches, neurasthenia. But was necessary to go to concerts, salons etc. everywhere, and to appear oneself in concerts and salons. The latter were often difficult occasions. On January 31st 1898, in the Salle Erard, amongst other things, a concert took place (“Audition[20] des oeuvres de Scriabine, pianiste-compositeur russe”) in which Alexander Nikolaevich and Vera Ivanovna played alternately. The programme was in five sections, of which Alexander Nikolaevich played the first (Sonata no. 2, Etudes op.8 nos 8 and 2, Nocturne for the left hand), the third (fourteen Preludes, two Impromptus) and the last (a Mazurka, Nocturne in A, Polonaise); Vera Ivanovna performed the second section (Allegro de Concert, Prelude in F sharp minor, Etudes op. 8 nos. 6 and 3, Mazurka in E) and the fourth (Preludes in G minor and D flat major, Impromptu in B minor and Etudes op. 8 nos. 9, 10, 12).

While in Paris Scriabin received the following letter from V.V. Stasov:[21]

                                                                                    November 27th 1897

Greatly respected

Alexander Nikolaevich!

I have just one very important piece of business for you. You have been awarded a prize of 1000 rubles for various musical works of yours, but who awarded the prize I do not know. It is some mysterious lover of the Russian musical school who wishes to remain anonymous, but since 1884 has been acting through me and every year hands over a certain sum which he intends to go to Russian composers. This takes place every year on the 27th November – which is ‘Glinka day’, for ‘A Life for the Tsar’ and ‘Ruslan and Ludmilla’ were first performed on the 27th November. My connections with the unknown person are via a Petersburg poste-restante address.

Now, in fulfilling the award for this year, I turn to you with the request to tell me: is it convenient for you to accept this prize or not? Usually through these thirteen years none of our composers has refused, except Shcherbachev on one occasion and once Balakirev. Once, also, even Tchaikovsky thought of refusing, owing to his already earning a sufficiency from his operas. But I wrote to him (in Paris), that it would be a great pity if he refused, for it would seem like something approaching neglect  of the people who loved him, regarded him and respected him highly, and at the same time it could be somewhat insulting for other colleagues who had received the prize. Because of this Tchaikovsky agreed with me, and I sent the sum which had been agreed at that time to him in Paris.

Allow us now, too, to hope for a favourable answer from you, and allow us to express to you, as much as we are able, our respect and love to you.

                                                                                    Ever yours

                                                                                                V. Stasov.

Scriabin did not turn down the prize, and on December 8th it was sent to him in Paris by Stasov with the following letter:

Dearest Alexander Nikolaevich,

Herewith I send you the prize for 1000 rubles.  It has been awarded to you for the following works by you:

            1) Mazurka[s] op 3      … … … … … … 300 r.

            2) Allegro op. 4           … … … … … … 200 r.

            3) Sonata op. 6            … … … … … … 200 r.

            4) Impromptus op. 7   … … … … … … 200 r.

            5) Prelude and nocturne op. 9    … … … 100 r.

                                                                                    Total: 1000 rubles

                        Yours ever, with great fellow-feeling

                                                                        V. Stasov

The mysterious ‘unknown’ was none other than Belyayev. He was a misogynist and opposed Scriabin’s marriage, but all the same he conceived the wish to come to Scriabin’s aid in this delicate way, as Scriabin entered a new state of life, which would of course demand new material means. Similar awards of the prize to Scriabin continued right up to the death of Belyayev (December 29th 1903), and even after his death from time to time, through a special council established according to Belyayev’s bequest.

Thus, in 1899, an ‘unknown musical well-wisher’ sent Scriabin 500 rubles via Stasov (for the Preludes op. 11 and the impromptus op. 12); 500 rubles in  1900 (for the preludes op. 13 and the sonata op. 19); 1000 rubles in 1901 (for the impromptus op. 14, 5 preludes op. 15, 7 preludes op. 17, Allegro de Concert op. 18); 1000 rubles in 1901 (for the concerto op. 20, four preludes op. 22, nine mazurkas  op. 25, polonaise op. 24); as much as 1500 rubles in 1903.

Besides this, in those years Belyayev – personally, on his own account – gave Scriabin a grand piano,[22] Chopin’s complete works, a traveller’s trunk and other things.

On his return from Paris, Scriabin spent the summer of 1898 in a dacha in Maidanovo, near Klin. Scriabin’s father came to that very place from Turkey on holiday, bringing his second wife, in order to introduce his spouse, Alexander Nikolaevich’s stepmother. They all spent the summer together. Here Rimma, the eldest daughter of Alexander Nikolaevich and Vera Ivanovna, was born.

A few pieces were written before the summer. The Third Sonata must be named as foremost amongst them. It is a miraculous work, which could be said to sum up the composition of the young Scriabin. At that time, its harmonies carried through the house, and the composer’s mother-in-law, by her new-born granddaughter’s cradle, constantly sang the second theme of the sonata’s finale as a lullaby.

Summer came to an end, the elder Scriabins travelled back to Turkey, and the younger ones needed to travel back to Moscow, to take out a lease on a flat, to set it up and establish a household…This business, always tedious and troublesome, was complicated in this case by the very limited funds of the Scriabins. And it was necessary on top of everything else to think of augmenting the existing sources of subsistence, means which were as limited as they were before, and on which Scriabin could survive alone, but which would already be insufficient for a family…

Just at that time an invitation made its way from Safonov to take up the position of professor of piano in the Moscow Conservatoire, a position left vacant by the death of professor Pavel

Schloezer. And Scriabin could do no other than take up this position, which he duly did in October of 1898.

[1] See Chapter 3 n. 2

[2] 1871-1950. Violinist, silver medallist at Moscow Conservatoire. He emigrated to Paris and thence to the U.S.A., where he taught at Baltimore Conservatoire and played and played viola in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

[3] The finale of this sonata was completed by 1889, as the manuscript shows. It was first published in the Soviet complete edition (first volume) in 1947 and given the tempo mark Presto. The end of this movement brings back the opening of the sonata in grandiose form, proving its origin (which was recognised by the editors of that edition.) One page is missing from the end of the slow movement, but the sonata has been recorded by Roberto Szidon and Mikhail Voskresensky with conjectural endings to that movement. Christoph Flamm, ed. Skrjabin Complete Piano Sonatas, I. 2011, Kassel: Bärenreiter. x-xii.

[4] The Cathedral was demolished in 1931; its reconstruction took place between 1995 and 2000. The reconstructed cathedral includes a concert hall named the Hall of the Ecclesiastical Councils of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Letopis’ zhizni i tvorchestva A. N. Skryabina [Chronicle of the life and work of Scriabin] (M. Prashnikova, O. Tompakova, eds.) Moscow: Muzyka, 1985 gives no details of Dubinsky, but does supply him with the initial I (p.46), possibly from Conservatoire archives.

[5] According to E. K. Rozenov, Scriabin paid for his opp. 1 and 2 to be published, but the Jurgenson firm did not charge for opp. 3 and 5. Taking everything into account, Scriabin owed Jurgenson a few score roubles, which he duly paid.  E. G.

[6] E. K. Rozenov relates that it was Safonov who introduced Belyayev to Scriabin. Y. E.

[7] Russian-speaking readers can follow all of this in the Scriabin-Belyayev correspondence which was published in 1922 and is available in facsimile. The correspondence is intriguing and sometimes very amusing.

[8] Scriabin’s acquaintance with a lady from Germany (the wife of a sculptor) dates from this time; she left a strong impression on his soul. Alexander Nikolaevich told the story afterwards of how he was then too young to appreciate fully  the remarkable mature spirit of this woman; she was older than him. Y.E.

[9] It is clear from the end of the paragraph that this patron is the critic mentioned earlier.

[10] The Imperial Russian Musical Society, which was started in the mid-nineteenth century, received the ‘Imperial’ title in 1873 and existed until the revolution.

[11] See chap. III n. 20.

[12] However, it should be mentioned that in teaching form Taneyev drew attention to this particular area, especially in Beethoven. Y. E.

[13] Lyubertsy, now a big industrial suburb of Moscow, did not acquire the status of a town until 1925.

[14] Nataliya Valerianovna Sekerina.

[15] Nikolai Markov and Iosif Gurlyand.

[16] The Romance was not then published. Nowadays listeners might find themselves in disagreement with Rozenov’s opinion. A good performance can be heard on

[17] ‘Long dimmed’ is a slight exaggeration. After Sekerina turned down Scriabin’s proposal of marriage, he wrote her a courteous and formal letter of farewell at the end of December 1895.

[18] See Chap. III n. 6.

[19] See Chap. III n. 7.

[20] In this context ‘audition’ means ‘performance’, ‘a chance to hear’.

[21] Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov 1804–1906 was one of the most influential critics of Russian music and art. A believer in building on Russian heritage and maintaining a Russian identity, he was a mentor of the ‘Five’ or ‘Mighty Handful’ in music and of the ‘Travellers’ in art.

[22] By the leading St. Petersburg maker, Becker; it is in the Scriabin Museum. 

The Myth of Scriabin’s ‘Pleroma’

Few have contributed as much to the understanding of Russian music in the West as the late Professor Richard Taruskin. But in one case the very authority that he gained through his work has led to the wide and unfortunate adoption of a misnomer, wrongly attributed to Scriabin: in major English-speaking works on the subject, Scriabin’s ‘mystic’ or ‘Promethean’ chord is now frequently referred to as the ‘chord of the pleroma’. The word ‘pleroma’, though, occurs nowhere in Scriabin’s writings as they have come down to us, and there is no record of his having used the term ‘chord of the pleroma’.

Professor Taruskin received, it seems, a report of  the conference held in 1992 in Moscow at the Scriabin Museum, entitled Различные аспекты творчества А. Н. Скрябина [‘Various aspects of Alexander Scriabin’s creative work’] (Moscow, n.d. Editors: T. B. Rybakova, O. M. Tompakova). One speaker had been the eminent Scriabin scholar of the Soviet era, Igor Bèlza. His talk  (p.17–21) was entitled Филосовские истоки образного строя «Прометея» [Philosophical sources of the structure of imagery in Prometheus]. Bèlza refers, perhaps, to the famous  occasion recounted by Alexander Ossovsky, when Rachmaninov sight-read the full score of Prometheus. (Воспоминания о Рахманинове [‘Reminiscences of Rachmaninov’], ed. Z. Apetyan, vol. 1 p. 405. Ossovsky recounted that the opening chord ‘delighted’ Rachmaninov, though he thought it would not sound well, owing to ‘illogical’ spacing. Bèlza (‘Phil. Sources’,  p. 18—19) gave the following account:

            Шестизвучие, которым начинается великая поэма, называется обычно «прометеевским». Говоря, однако, о гностической концепсии произведения, мы вправе назвать это созвучие, ошеломившее уже первых слушателей своей  необычностью. «Чем ты это делаешь?» – спросил автора на репетиции пораженный Рахманинов. – «Аккорд плеромы». […]

            The six-note sonority with which the great poem begins is usually called ‘Promethean.’ But, speaking of the gnostic conception of the work, we are right to   give a name to this sonority, which astounded the very first listeners with its unusualness. Impressed, Rachmaninov asked the composer at a rehearsal: ‘What are you using for this?’ ‘The chord of the pleroma.’[…]

A fuller text of Bèlza’s address is given in the Museum’s publication Ученые записи [Scholarly Notes] No.1 (Moscow, Kompozitor, 1993, p. 70–77), in which he is more specific and limited in his statement about the term ‘chord of the pleroma’ (p. 75):

            […]гностический аспект, объясняющий, в частности, предложенный мною термин «аккорд  Плеромы».  У нас нет, правда, документального свидетельства, что Скрябину было известно это слово […]

            […] the gnostic aspect which partly explains the term which I have suggested, ‘chord of the Pleroma.’ It is true that we have no documentary evidence that this word was known to Scriabin […] [italics in original; underlining by present writer.]

It seems likely that Professor Taruskin did not see this longer text, which clarifies that the term is Bèlza’s invention, whereas the shorter excerpt strongly implies that it was Scriabin’s own. Bèlza was the author of an authoritative biography of Scriabin (1987). There may have been an eagerness, after the fall of the Communist system, to embrace topics, such as Gnosticism, which would have been problematic in the Soviet era. This zeal on Bèlza’s part seems to have misled Taruskin himself into adopting as authentic a spurious term.

© Simon Nicholls 2022


Z. Apetyan, compiler and editor, Воспоминания о Рахманинове [Reminiscences of Rachmaninov] vol.1. 2nd, completed edition: Moscow, State Music Publishers, 1961.

Igor Bèlza: Aleksandr Nikolaevich Skryabin. Moscow, ‘Muzyka’, 1987.

State Memorial Museum of A. N. Scriabin (as it then was):

Tamara Rybakova and Olga Tompakova, eds: Различные аспекты творчества А. Н. Скрябина: материалы научной конференции, посвященной 120-летнию со дня рождения А. Н. Скрябина /6 и 7 января 1992 г./

[Various aspects of the creative work of Alexander Scriabin: documents of the research conference dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Scriabin (6th and 7th January 1992.) Moscow n.d.

Editorial committee: Igor Bèlza, Tamara Rybakova, Olga Tompakova, Andrei Bandura:

Ученые записки [Scholarly notes] no. 1. Moscow: ‘Kompozitor’, 1993.

Superb Scriabin Sonatas edition completed

Good things are worth waiting for. Volume III of the Bärenreiter edition of Scriabin’s sonatas, containing the sonatas numbered six, seven and eight, is now available. The outstanding editor, Christoph Flamm, wisely waited for manuscript sources for the Seventh to emerge, and the publisher’s preparation of the edition was further delayed by the pandemic.

Prof. Flamm’s reputation as a scholar is unrivalled, as well as his untiring capacity for taking pains. The clarity and correctness of the text are unimpeachable (to pick out one detail, the eloquent marking Prophétique is restored to the opening fanfares of the Seventh sonata.)

For anybody experienced enough to tackle these sonatas, the absence of fingering (a feature of Bärenreiter house style) is a bonus. The plentiful front-matter, quite separate from the texts, constitutes a complete education as to Scriabin’s harmonic style, the structure of these sonatas, their origin and source history, and many other background matters. All of these are scrupulously annotated, and any student who lives, as I have, in bibliographies will be inspired by Prof. Flamm’s wide background of documentation to their own programme of further reading.

Now that the whole edition is before us, we can assess its usefulness. Though it runs to four volumes, it is a genuinely ‘complete’ edition of the sonatas, including the 1886 Sonata-Fantaisie and the 1889 E flat minor sonata. Each volume is equally fully annotated. Study of this edition is an indispensable guide to a fuller understanding of Scriabin as a human being and thinker, as well as an uniquely innovative and rich composer for the piano.

It should be mentioned also that an excellent edition of the ten sonatas by Pavel Shatsky has appeared as volume II/10 of the Alexander Scriabin Collected Works published in Russia by Muzyka and Jurgenson. The availability in UK of these volumes tends to be patchy, and with the presently unfolding tragedy in Ukraine availability will almost certainly decline. For those who wish to acquire the existing nine volumes of this memorial edition, useful sources are and Abebooks.

Simon Nicholls March 2022.

Yulii Engel Biography of Scriabin Chapter III

III. Moscow Conservatoire

(1888–1892) Vassily Safonov – Scriabin’s attitude to his work with Safonov – Individual features of Scriabin’s piano performances – His improvisations – Damage to right hand ­– Pieces for the left hand – Sergei Taneyev and his counterpoint class – Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninov in this class – Arensky and the fugue class – Scriabin and Arensky –   Scriabin and the class for free composition – His exit from this class.

Scriabin entered the Conservatoire in January 1888, i.e. in the middle of an academic year, as may be seen from his permit of studentship. The reason for this rather unusual time of entry is explained by the fact of Scriabin’s having to join Vassily Safonov’s piano class; Safonov, though, was absent from Moscow for almost all of the first half of the academic year, 1887–88. He was on a concert tour with Karl Davydov[1] through Russia, for which he obtained two to three months’ leave. During his absence Safonov placed Scriabin with David Shor, who was then his pupil.[2] It was not until Safonov returned that Scriabin officially became his pupil in the Conservatoire.

But it may be imagined that Scriabin could only dedicate himself to the Conservatoire when he had left the cadet corps. Judging by the ‘certification’ from class IV given above, this did not take place until 1889. If the latter date is correct, Scriabin studied simultaneously in the corps and at the conservatoire for half a year.

It was difficult to reconcile working constantly at the Conservatoire and living in Lefortovo, which was far from the centre of the capital, and when their grandson and nephew left the corps, the Scriabins moved nearer, to Ostozhenka.[3] Alexander Scriabin also lived here, once again in the cosy circle of the family, throughout his time at the Conservatoire and right up to the time of his marriage, i.e. his twenty-sixth year.

He enrolled at the Conservatoire in two specialist subjects simultaneously: piano and composition. Vassily Safonov, who did not become Director of the Conservatoire until 1889, became his piano professor.

The son of a Cossack general, Safonov was not predestined for a musical career, being educated at the school in Alexandrov.  He studied piano with Leschetitzky and later with Louis Brassin, a pupil of Moscheles, at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. In 1885 he became a professor at the Moscow Conservatoire, after having held a similar post in St. Petersburg for five years. An energetic personality, he was Director of the Moscow Conservatoire only four years later. He was also responsible for the organisation of the symphonic concerts of the Russian Musical Association (RMO). A fine pianist and professor, Safonov also gradually became a conductor who was well able to put on symphony concerts.

He also showed great energy as an administrator, but here his abrupt manner and his neglect of necessary consideration of staff colleagues in the running of the Conservatoire led to a whole series of confrontations, in consequence of which Safonov was finally obliged to leave the Conservatoire after an incident with Sergei Taneyev in 1905. From that time on and until the most recent times[4] he has appeared in Russia and especially abroad, rarely as a pianist but for the most part as a conductor.

Safonov picked out Scriabin for his class while the latter was still studying with Zverev. He was greatly attracted by the young pianist’s talent; moreover, the soft, refined playing of Scriabin was more fitted to Safonov’s school, influenced by Louis Brassin, than to the brilliant Lisztian school of Paul Pabst,[5] and, in part, of Pavel de Schloezer.[6] These were two other senior professors of the Moscow Conservatoire at that time.

Scriabin worked under Safonov with the greatest assiduity and attention to detail, following exactly all his professor’s directions. This exemplary assiduity was sometimes the cause of results which are worthy of narration.

‘One time in spring,’ Vasily Safonov tells in this connection, ‘parting with Scriabin before the summer, I said in the last lesson, among other things, that it might be necessary to enrich his touch with a deep stroke, in which the fingers would, so to speak, be buried in the keyboard. But what ? He played all summer long with exactly that kind of touch, and so zealously that I was horrified in the autumn when I heard him: his hands had become utterly heavy. “You’ve gone completely crazy,” I said, and immediately set him a Mozart concerto ­– the best medicine in such cases.’

But along with all Scriabin’s strivings to follow his professor’s advice, situations of the following kind would often occur: he would practise in one way and sit down to play (even on the platform, in the pupils’ evenings) in a quite different way: his own way. Nevertheless, according to accounts from various people, Safonov never made cutting remarks to Scriabin in the sense of artistic performance. Even if the professor was not in agreement with his unusual pupil’s interpretation, he would find the performance to be fine in any case. In general, Safonov behaved to Scriabin with especial tenderness, indulged him, was particularly eager to work with him at home.

‘It often happened’, Safonov recounts, ‘that he would play at my place just at the time I was relaxing in the next room. One time I just dropped off. I woke up to some charming sounds. I didn’t even want to move, so as not to break the magic spell. Then I asked: “What is that?” It turned out to be his D flat major prelude.[7] That is one of the best memories of my life. Another time we were working at my place at home. In the middle of the lesson I felt so tired that I said to him: “Play for a bit without me, and I will rest and have a lie-down.” When I woke up, I heard something, not exactly in C sharp minor, not exactly in A major – he was improvising. That too was one of my most delicate musical delights, after Anton Rubinstein.  Skryabin took in to a high degree what is so important for a pianist and which I always used to impress on my pupils: “The less the piano sounds like itself under the fingers of a performer, the better it is.” Much in his way of playing was my own.  But he had especially varied tone-colours and a special, ideally subtle use of the pedal; he possessed a rare and exclusive gift: with him the instrument breathed.’

Safonov directed the attention of his class to Scriabin’s remarkable use of the pedal more than once. ‘Why are you looking at his hands’, he would say to the class during some successful performance of Scriabin, ‘look at his feet.’ On the lips of Safonov, ‘Sasha-style pedalling’ was the best of compliments.

Scriabin’s appearances at Conservatoire evening concerts always attracted attention. At one evening (still in cadet’s uniform) he played  Schumann’s Papillons. At another, he played the Bach B minor fugue (the one in five voices)[8] and a mazurka of Chopin (op.50 no. 3) – both enchantingly. In one of the examinations (apparently in the seventh or eighth year) Scriabin played Mendelssohn’s Serenade,[9] Chopin’s G minor Ballade and Schumann’s Papillons. K. Yu. Davydov,[10] who was present at the examination, wrote down there and then on the sheet listing the examinations, against the name ‘Scriabin’, ‘Gifts at the level of genius’. This little sheet has been preserved to this day.[11]

Scriabin loved to be ahead of others in all things, and wanted to be first amongst his classmates not only as regards subtlety of performance but also in brilliance of technique. But in this matter he was destined to get into a troublesome contention with Josef Levin,[12] who possessed phenomenal virtuosic and technical gifts. In this contention, Scriabin almost damaged his hand permanently.  He applied himself with such  assiduousness and ardour to Balakirev’s Islamey and Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy, two works of diabolical difficulty in general and for his hands in particular,  that a year and a half before graduating from the Conservatoire he wore out his right hand, which suddenly refused completely to work. At this he went to the famous [Dr.] Zakharin.[13] Zakharin angrily threw back his head: ‘Impossible to put right at this stage.’ But Scriabin declared: ‘No; it is possible.’ And he went on a course of

kumis in order to strengthen his altogether weak health.[14] Then he began to practise his right hand separately and assiduously; at first, only little by little, then more and more, and finally, by degrees, he brought it back almost to a complete playing ability, although never to its previous condition.

At one time (in 1891) Scriabin, who was enthusiastic then about the sonatas of Beethoven, conceived the idea of preparing them all  for his examination, as his classmate Samuelson had prepared all the preludes and fugues of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. But this was only a pious wish.

Scriabin could play only with difficulty at his final exam because of his damaged right hand,  and this was brought to the examiners’ attention. All the same, he was awarded the gold medal. At the conservatoire concert he played Liszt’s Don Juan and his own  mazurka in E major [Op. 3 no. 4].  Anton Rubinstein, who was present at the concert, improvised variations on the mazurka there and then.

Over a long period, when the right hand utterly refused to work or was working poorly, Scriabin had to be content with using his left hand. It was at that time  that Scriabin composed his works for left hand alone, later published as op. 9 (Prelude and Nocturne).

He also composed a third piece at the same time, an unpublished paraphrase on a waltz by Johann Strauss. It is not even known whether this paraphrase was written down,  but E. K. Rozenov heard it more than once played in its entirety by Scriabin, and says: ‘God knows what kind of virtuoso pieces there were then!’

Scriabin was concerned for his future as a pianist, and at that time he began to practise often with the fingers of his right hand (on a table, on his knee, on anything convenient), testing exactly how freely they could move. After that, it became a lifelong habit with him.

In general, Scriabin composed a great deal while at the Conservatoire, where his works were highly estimated by many people.  We have seen Safonov’s attitude to them.   ‘You don’t know whose work gets passed from hand to hand here,’ another Conservatoire professor, Pavel  Schloezer, exclaimed in delight  at hearing Scriabin’s works.  Being close to his house  subsequently became very  important for Scriabin.

It was not yet suitable, however, for Scriabin to finish his course at the conservatoire.

Scriabin entered the Conservatoire  directly to study counterpoint. The class was led at that time by Taneyev, to whom Scriabin was indebted for preparation in theoretical subjects for Conservatoire entry.    

I was fortunate enough to be in Sergei Ivanovich’s class myself, and ­moreover only three or four years after Scriabin, so that if I describe Taneyev’s characteristics as a professor my description will be equally applicable to Scriabin’s time.

Above all, Taneyev opened the pupil’s eyes to the law of historical continuity in the evolution of music, to the indispensability in this respect of practical mastery of the fundamental forms of this evolution; to the inexhaustible treasures of the past and especially of the half-forgotten [29] era of contrapuntal polyphony, which still awaits a new, fruitful renaissance.  

His class of counterpoint, fugue and form made the pupil experience and share in the whole historical process of the evolution of music personally, so to speak, taught him to separate the essential from the secondary elements in music, to value what was powerful, beautiful and eternal even in the music of the past.

But at the same time this class was a magnificent school in compositional technique, the elements of which Sergei Ivanovich  also instilled and developed  thoroughly  and

progressively (progressively also in the historical sense) through appropriate exercises in ‘strict’ and ‘free’ style, as elements of virtuoso performance are  developed through all kinds of scales, exercises or studies.

The counterpoint class (he considered one year appropriate for this)  began with every possible kind of exercise in counterpoint on a cantus firmus and with imitations (including inversion, augmentation and diminution of themes etc.) These were followed by chorales with imitations; canons with imitations, progressing finally to seven or eight voices (a three-voice canon plus imitating voices and even a cantus firmus); invertible (complex) counterpoint at every transposition of which there are examples and with those examples included; perpetual canons  from various examples;  exercises in horizontally moveable counterpoint; fugues in up to five voices, including simple, double, triple, in inversion throughout, with every kind of stretto and other contrivances, on Latin and Russian texts.

All this was done in strict style (in ecclesiastical modes, suitable for vocal performance, according to examples from the period of strict style etc.), richly illustrated by the best historical examples from the polyphonic repertoire. The second year of counterpoint (‘fugue’) was devoted to the free style. All corrections to the pupil’s work were made by Taneyev in the class itself, under the pupil’s scrutiny, with a speed which was limited only by the essential physical effort of writing.   

One may approximately judge the process of Taneyev’s class in counterpoint by the parts of it which are collected together in his book Invertible Counterpoint.[15] In Scriabin’s era this book did not yet exist, but it had already been thought about and, in part, prepared by that time, which means that Scriabin also worked at a great deal of this material, if not all of it.

Taneyev, like Safonov, describes Scriabin as a very assiduous student.  He wrote everything he was supposed to: note-against-note counterpoint, two notes and three notes against one,[16]

imitation, etc.; in a word, he did all the work which was set. But there was no evidence of an especial love for the work, or of individual initiative; there were even attempts to do less or to do easier things within the limits of what was set. Sometimes this attempt to complete exactly the task demanded [30] and simultaneously to diminish the amount of work he had to do expressed itself in curious forms. For example, Scriabin tried to shorten the themes for imitation. This meant that the number of bars in the exercise was reduced, at all accounts, and the work was less demanding.

Scriabin’s classmates in the counterpoint course at that time were: Rachmaninov, the pianist E. Kashperova,[17] the bassoonist Zeidenberg (now [1916] playing in the orchestra of the Bolshoi theatre) and the horn-player Lidak. Rachmaninov was no more assiduous in work than Scriabin. Now, many years later, he is enthusiastic about Taneyev’s teaching, but it is clear that then both he and Scriabin were too young, too much filled with straightforward creative ferment,  to be more deeply interested in the broad, abstract contrapuntal perspectives which opened up during work in Taneyev’s class.

But all the same, in Taneyev’s class it was not possible to do nothing at all; he was the utter  embodiment of a good conscience. Even if it happened occasionally that a pupil brought no work to the class, Taneyev would be so sincerely saddened and offended that it was simply shameful to do the same thing again.

The following year both Scriabin and Rachmaninov transferred from Taneyev to A. S. Arensky’s fugue class. Arensky was a different type of professor from Taneyev. It is true that he shared with Taneyev the qualities of an excellent ear, compositional mastery and a swift mind in correcting exercises, but he did not possess Taneyev’s broad contrapuntal and historical erudition, his strict system or his self-possessed character. Those who were to Arensky’s taste he declared to be fine, those who were not, he regarded as bad. And in accordance with this characteristic he tried to adjust the pupil’s work, and to correct it, sometimes not taking into account the pupil’s individuality. It must be added that Arensky was waspish and very harsh with those who were unfortunate enough to attract his dislike.

This misfortune fell to Scriabin’s lot (as happened a few years later to Grechaninov). Arensky considered Scriabin too sure of himself, arrogant (though others thought so too at a different period); and he was not able, however hard he tried, to divine a talent for composition in Scriabin. Taneyev always commented on the work sincerely, expressing his regret, his insulted feelings, but with  a generally warm attitude to a pupil’s work; there was none of this in Arensky. In his turn Scriabin felt no sympathy with Arensky and his attitude to him was scornful. 

Work could not progress successfully under these conditions. Scriabin began to lose even his usual minimum standard of diligence, not even completing the official requirements. He worked little and with scorn. Rachmaninov too was lazy, though by all accounts he did what was actually essential. Before the lesson, as happens in the composition class, [31] they often played their own compositions to each other, utterly ‘free’ – not those which were brought to the class.

In the final reckoning Scriabin had offered so little work during the year that Arensky set him ten fugues to write during the summer.  ‘If you want to move to the next year, then write them.’ But Scriabin only wrote two fugues: one was a ‘fugue-nocturne’, the other is now in the possession of E. K. Rozenov. It is a fugue in five voices, interesting, good for a pupil, but with nothing interesting about it either as regards the theme or its development. Only at the end, in the stretto (see mus. ex. no. 1) is there anything  in the harmony or the turns of the melody which corresponds to the concept of the later Scriabin and, so to speak, foretells it.

One way or another, after a year Scriabin was transferred from the class for fugue to the class for free composition.  Here relations between professor and student became even more strained. F. F. Koenemann,[18] who was also in Arensky’s class for free composition, said that Arensky complained to him about Scriabin: ‘You set him one thing, and he brings back something completely different…Some kind of a crackpot!’

Arensky set Scriabin to write a scherzo for orchestra, among other things. Instead of the scherzo, Scriabin  brought an Introduction to an opera, Keistut and Peiruta, already orchestrated.[19] Arensky remained extremely dissatisfied and, in Rozenov’s words, ‘put Scriabin out of the room.’[20] And at this point yet another situation arose. In 1891 Alexander Siloti left the professorial staff of the conservatoire because of misunderstandings with Safonov. Rachmaninov, who had close ties with Siloti, also decided to graduate from the Conservatoire as soon as possible. Instead of the usual two years (which could also extend to three or four) he conceived the wish to complete the course for free composition in a single year. Arensky was dissatisfied with such a hasty completion but agreed all the same. But when [31] Scriabin made the same request, clearly enticed by Rachmaninov’s example, Arensky refused. Scriabin was offended and angry, and left the free composition class altogether.

Thus it came about that a composer who brought glory to his alma mater was not granted a diploma in composition, though tens of other composers earned one who are little known or completely unknown.

[1] 1838–1889. Outstanding cellist, composer, professor in Leipzig and later director of St. Petersburg Conservatoire.

[2] 1867–1942. Pianist and teacher. He graduated from Moscow Conservatoire  in 1889 and was a member of the Moscow Piano Trio from 1892–1924. He was a professor in Moscow Conservatoire from 1919 to 1925, when he first travelled to Palestine, as it was then known, settling in Tel Aviv in 1927.

[3] A very central and now exclusive and expensive area of Moscow.

[4] Safonov died in 1918.

[5] 1854–1897, one of Liszt’s Weimar pupils and teacher of Lyapunov, Medtner and Goldenweiser.

[6] 1841/2–1898, of Polish and German origin. A professor at the Moscow Conservatoire from 1892. Links to Scriabin: amongst Schloezer’s pupils was Leonid Sabaneyev, Scriabin’s friend and Boswell, and Schloezer’s niece and nephew Tatyana and Boris became, respectively, Scriabin’s partner and his close friend and early biographer.

[7] Op. 11 no. 15.

[8] WTC vol. 1.

[9] The Serenade and Allegro giojoso op. 43 of Mendelssohn has an orchestral part, very much an ‘accompaniment’. It is likely that Scriabin performed without the orchestra, as is the usual practice in Chopin’s Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante.

[10] See n.1. Given his date of death (February 1889 in Moscow), this must have been very early on in Scriabin’s conservatoire career.

[11] 1916. It is possible that Moscow Conservatoire still has it.

[12] We know him by his agent’s choice of spelling: Joseph Lhévinne.

[13] Grigorii Antonovich Zakharin, 1879–1897/8,  doctor and therapist, distinguished professor of Moscow University.

[14] Kumis is the fermented milk of mares and donkeys. Its use originated in Central Asia. It is still prepared in Kyrghyzstan and is used in the treatment of many ailments. Scriabin went to Samara for his treatment. There can be no doubt that the environment there and, later, in Gurzuf in the Crimea, was also beneficial to Scriabin’s general health.

[15] Translated version: Serge Ivanovitch Taneiev, Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style, trans. G. Ackley Brower, intro. Serge Koussevitzky. Boston: Branden Publishing Company, Inc. (orig. Bruce Humphries Publishers), 1962/2007. [In the U.K. the usual term is ‘invertible’, though what is ‘inverted’ is the order of the voices: i.e. what was the tenor may become the treble, etc. The Russian term is ‘moveable counterpoint’.

[16] In English this is known as ‘species counterpoint’, but Engel’’s self-explanatory description has been allowed to stand.

[17] Elizaveta Kashperova, 1871-1936. Studied piano with Safonov. Taught at Moscow Conservatoire 1921–1936: piano, solo singing and composition. Daughter of Vladimir Nikitich Kashperov, 1826–1894, pianist and singer.

[18] Fyodor Fyodorovich Koenemann (1873–1937), composer, pianist, later a professor at Moscow Conservatoire,  friend and accompanist of Chaliapin. The Germanic name has two ‘n’s in Roman spelling,

one in Cyrillic.

[19] Rachmaninov also remembers this opera on a Lithuanian subject. One time he was ill and could not leave the house for a long time. Scriabin came to see him and played some of his compositions to him, including an aria from ‘Keistut and Peiruta’. Rachmaninov tells as follows: ‘I liked that aria a tremendous amount then, and I think I would still like it. It was completely, completely finished. Could it really have remained unwritten in that condition?’ It turns out that a fragment of a single aria from ‘Keistut and Peiruta’ has been kept by E. K. Rozenov. It is clear that the text of the aria was written by Scriabin’s aunt, Lyubov Scriabina [Engel’ writes ‘M.A. Scriabina’], who was to write the libretto for the opera. With beautiful harmony (and there is no doubt that Scriabin’s harmony was beautiful) this lovely melody (see music example no. II) would still be a winner. But from the point of view of declamation there are things which are crude and awkward (for example the lack of musical punctuation marks after the question in the very first bar, and their presence in the middle of a sentence in bar 3, etc.) Y. E.

[20] There is another version in existence (Vera Scriabina). Alexander Nikolaevich wrote an orchestral scherzo for the class. Arensky wanted to perform it with the student orchestra, after a few corrections. Scriabin did not agree, and it was because of this that they quarrelled. Y. E.