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Scriabin Association Honorary President

DMITRI ALEXEEV

​The sudden and tragic death from COVID of Aleksandr Serafimovich ​​Scriabin robbed Russia of a valuable worker in the field of music and ​​of Scriabin research. Those of us who knew him still mourn him. But we turn with delight to the news that Dmitri Alexeev has agreed to take ​​up the post. Our Honorary President lends the glamour of his name to ​​the Association. His undoubted deep knowledge of Scriabin is evidenced ​​by the superb complete collection of Scriabin’s solo music he has ​​​recorded for Brilliant Classics (6 CDs); and many other recordings, ​​​including all the Rachmaninov Preludes and Chopin Mazurkas, bear ​​​witness to his inheritance of the highest and most excellent traditions ​​in Russian piano playing. His concert activity is world-wide but he has ​​endeared himself to British audiences by his appearances in UK. A similar ​​British/international cachet marks his work as Professor of Piano in the Royal College of Music, London.
We celebrate and welcome him!

​​​​​​​​Simon Nicholls

Russian pianist Dmitri Alexeev is one of the world’s most highly regarded artists. His critically acclaimed recitals on the world’s leading concert stages and concer- to appearances with the most prestigious orchestras have secured his position as one of “the most remarkable pianists of the day” (Daily Telegraph).

He has performed in all major concert halls around the world and has performed with all leading orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the five London orchestras, Orchestre de Paris, Israel Philharmonic and the Munich Bavarian Radio Orchestra amongst others. He has worked with conductors such as Ashkenazy, Boulez, Dorati, Giulini, Jansons, Muti, Pappano, Rozhdestvensky, Salonen, Svetlanov, Temirkanov, Tilson Thomas and Klaus Tennstedt amongst many others.

Alexeev has been a juror for many of the world’s most prestigious International Piano Competitions, including the Leeds, Chopin (Warsaw), Van Cliburn, San- tander, Beethoven (Vienna) and Tchaikovsky (Moscow) International Piano Com- petition. He regularly gives masterclasses around the world. .

Alexeev has made many fine recordings for EMI, BMG, Virgin Classics, Hyperion and Russian labels. Following his Virgin Classics recording of the complete Rachmaninov Preludes, which won the Edison Award in the Netherlands, BBC Music Magazine described him as “a pianist at once aristocratic, grand and con- fessionally poetic. This is an inspiring disc.” His recording of the complete Chopin Mazurkas was released in 2014. A recording that Gramophone Magazine referred to as “one of the best recordings of the Chopin Mazurkas that have appeared in the past three-quarters of a century – one of the best alongside those of Rubin- stein and Yakov Flier.“

His recordings of complete Scriabin’s works for piano solo were released by Bril- liant Classics in 2022.

Alexeev’s two piano transcriptions of works by Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Gershwin as well as a his transcription of Brahms’ Ballade for Viola and Piano were recently published.




Yulii Engel Biography of Scriabin Chapter VI

[55] VI. Abroad (1904-1909)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled: ‘Why do you ask?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] The introduction was originally in French.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[26] Information from Letopis’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[35] Scriabin and Tatyana.

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

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

Under the Mantle of Music – a reminiscence of the Scriabin Museum by Andrei Golovin

Andrei Golovin is one of Russia’s most distinguished composers. He studied at Moscow Conservatoire and is now professor of composition and orchestration at Gnesin’s Academy. His works include four symphonies, concertante pieces for violin, cello and oboe respectively with orchestra, a cantata entitled ‘Simple Songs’, a song cycle with orchestra on words by Nikolai Rubtsov, ‘musical pictures’ on the story Bambi by Felix Salten – Russia has not suffered the Disney version of Bambi and Salten’s book is rightly regarded there as an adult work. These and many other pieces have been performed by Russia’s main orchestras in the most prestigious venues. His most recent work has included orchestrations of several Medtner songs. He has also written many film scores. His interest in Medtner and his deep spirituality lead him to a naturally conservative, though always challenging, idiom. We are privileged to have a narrative from schooldays written specially for the Association, relating to how he developed a ‘special relationship’ at an early age with the Scriabin Museum in Moscow. It is translated by Simon Nicholls, who would like to take this opportunity of publicly thanking Andrei for his unfailingly generous and resourceful help over many years and for the shining example of his dedicated musicianship and unassuming, profound spirituality.  

UNDER THE MANTLE OF MUSIC

My parents decided that I must study music from childhood, and when I was seven, they sent me to the famous Gnesin ‘seven-year’ music school.[1] It was not easy to get into, but as it happened my mother, Galina Aleksandrovna Golovina, a graduate of Moscow Conservatoire, taught solfège in the Gnesin School. I am certain that when my mother took me to the school for an audition and my musical capabilities had been assessed, the question of acceptance had been settled accordingly. I studied fairly well, and combined work in the music school with work in the general school which was obligatory for all, the usual arrangement for many children. I played the piano well and performed successfully.

But when I was getting on for twelve, to be frank, musical studies were a great burden to me. In sum, I announced to my parents that I could no longer study music, I didn’t want to play the piano and, finally, that I wanted to leave the music school! I was so insistent in my desire to part with music that my parents, very sorrowfully, were obliged to comply.

I can’t say that music didn’t interest me. I remember that at the age of ten I was very taken with Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Ludmilla, and listened endlessly to the LP recording of the outstanding performance by the soloists and orchestra of the Bolshoi Opera directed by Kyrill Kondrashin. Later when classical works were broadcast on the radio I was able to listen to my heart’s content. For example, it was like that with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, which made a very big impression on me – so big an impression that I went off to the shop and bought an LP of the symphony. Gradually music began to attract me ever more strongly. But the work which had the most profound effect on me was the G major piano concerto of Ravel. I felt that Music’s magical hold upon me was already strong; I understood that it would be very difficult for me to live without music, and I consciously began to return to her with all the spiritual strength I possessed.  The French composers attracted me particularly: Ravel, Debussy, Honegger, Messiaen. The collection of LPs grew quickly; endlessly and insatiably I consumed music in enormous quantities.

But this was a passive activity, and it was time to begin thinking about my future.

Strangely enough, along with this enormous attraction to music I was experiencing a major interest in chemistry. Yes indeed, chemistry! I put together a small laboratory at home; I had flasks, test tubes, chemical ingredients. Music and chemistry! A comparison with the Russian composer Alexander Borodin suggests itself. My form mates in school made up a charming verse about me, which I still remember.

            Great Mendeleev fondly dreamed

            Of things not being as now seemed.

            He considered there’d be one who followed in

            His steps and outshone him: Golovin!

As is well known, Mendeleev was a Russian scholar of genius, creator of the famous tables of the elements. In the rhyme there is a witty hint at the assonance of the surnames Borodin and Golovin!

And so what was it that tipped the scales? Music or chemistry? The Lord decided – Music! I announced to my parents that I wanted to take the Gnesin College exams. To do so it was essential to graduate externally, that is to say, to take the exams for all the years one had missed. (In the USSR musical education had three steps: seven years in music school, four years in college and five years in a conservatoire.) I took the exams and entered the Gnesin college in the musical theory department. A little earlier I had begun to try my hand at composition.

The circle of composers whose music I had got to know was constantly widening. I find it hard to say why one day I decided to buy an LP of works by Scriabin, but I remember distinctly that they were late piano works, performed by Vladimir Sofronitsky. Scriabin’s music stunned me and crowded all other composers out of my consciousness. I became so deeply immersed in it that with time I even began to memorise phone numbers by associating the first two numerals with various opus numbers by Scriabin.

Having discovered that the Scriabin Museum exists in Moscow, I decided to go there straight away. It was not easy to reach the Museum: in those years work was being carried out on the construction of a huge major highway – Kalinin Prospect. (It was renamed in 1994 and is now the New Arbat. Muscovites quickly named this highway ‘The False Teeth’.)

Construction of Kalinin Prospect, 1967.

Unfortunately, a result of this construction was the destruction of some of the Arbat streets and side-streets, among them the famous Sobach’ya ploshchad [‘Dogs’ Square’], where a mansion was situated in which the Gnesin musical school was housed.

No. 5, Sobach’ya ploshchad: Gnesin musical college.

In order to reach the Museum I had to cross the construction works.  I walked to the house in which the Museum is situated, climbed the stairs to the first floor and entered the premises, which turned out to be a big apartment. In the darkened reception room stood a desk, lit by a table lamp. There was nobody there… On the right was a small corridor; I heard footsteps and before me appeared a middle-aged woman. After a few questions I announced to her, in some embarrassment: ‘This year I have discovered Scriabin!’ Thus began my first visit to the museum which became my second home for many long years.

The woman conversing with me was called Irina Ivanovna Sofronitskaya. Her husband, Aleksandr Vladimirovitch Sofronitsky, was the son of Vladimir Vladimirovich Sofronitsky, the great Russian pianist. There was a cult of this musician in the Museum. The piano works of the composer were demonstrated to visitors in recordings exclusively by Sofronitsky. Usually, at the end of an excursion through the Museum, visitors were invited to a small room to listen to Scriabin’s music. In this room there was a small Steinway piano and two ‘prehistoric’ tape recorders. To imagine the size of one of these, just imagine an average-sized fridge placed on its side. The tapes of the performances were on spools of a pretty large diameter, and the tape speed was 38 or even 76 cm per second! The sound was delivered through vast columnar loudspeakers. All this produced a great impression.

I came to the Museum quite often, travelling to the other end of town after lessons and staying there for a long time. I very much loved to listen to the music together with the visitors on the museum excursions. One day Irina Ivanovna said to me: ‘You listened in such a way today – you had simply dissolved in the music!’ I should explain that Irina Ivanovna paid great attention to the way that visitors to the Museum listened to Scriabin’s music, sharing her observations with me afterwards. Scriabin’s music produced such delirium in me that I persuaded half of my class at the general school to go on an excursion to the Museum. We agreed that one should never go to the Museum with empty hands: each person should bring flowers.  Irina Ivanovna recalled: ‘Imagine, a crowd of schoolboys troop in to the Museum, each one of them clutching a flower in a pot! That was very touching!’ I became very good friends with Irina Ivanovna. I wanted to do something for the Museum, to be of some small service to it. In Irina Ivanovna’s office stood a huge safe, where many printed editions of Scriabin’s works were kept higgledy-piggledy. I asked her permission to sort out the sheet music, and filed it tidily according to opus numbers.

The next room was the study of the director, Tatyana Grigor’evna Shaborkina. She was director uninterruptedly from 1941 to 1984. Irina Ivanovna fondly called Tatiana Grigor’evna ‘direktorchik’. According to Irina Ivanovna’s stories, Shaborkina was obstinate to an unusual degree for those days amongst those in ‘high office’ if a higher authority demanded something from her which contradicted her life’s calling – looking after Scriabin’s interests. In her burning eyes I saw an inextinguishable reflection of Scriabin’s music. Everything which did not correspond with the spirit of Scriabin, in Tatyana Grigor’evna’s opinion, was mercilessly rejected. Irina Ivanovna told me how one morning she came into the museum and found Tatyana Grigor’evna quite alone, listening to the recording of Scriabin’s Prometheus by Aleksander Goldenweiser and an orchestra conducted by Nikolai Golovanov, a recording which has become a reference point.[2] When the music stopped, Irina Ivanovna asked in surprise what all this was about. It turned out that the previous evening Tatyana Grigorevna had heard a recording of Prometheus on the radio (I don’t remember the names of the performers) and she had categorically disliked this interpretation. ‘I want to purify myself!’, declared Tatyana Grigor’evna.

I was not exaggerating when I said that the Museum became my second home. I was even allowed to play the grand piano which stood in the work-room. This was a Bechstein with a surprisingly responsive keyboard and a silvery sound. Sometimes Tatyana Grigor’evna would say to me: ‘Andryusha, Irina Ivanovna and I are going out to lunch. Lock up the museum and wait for us.’ Then I would go into the work-room, open the lid of Scriabin’s piano and compose. Of course, at that time I was very strongly influenced by Scriabin’s music. I remember composing a piece: ‘Dedication to Scriabin’, op. 4 in E flat major. I tape-recorded it at home and proudly brought the tape into the Museum. My gift was graciously received and was added to the museum’s collection of recordings.

Irina Ivanovna and Tatyana Grigor’evna supported me in my efforts to compose, in every way. They believed in my composing ability and this opened me up. A few years later, when I decided to apply to enter the composition department of the Conservatoire, Tatyana Grigor’evna allowed me to make a recording of my works on Scriabin’s piano, to be listened to in the entry exam. This recording was made by the audio studio which was on the ground floor of the museum. They stretched a cable from the studio to the first floor and stood the microphone in the work-room.

At the age of seventeen I became seriously ill; in the hospital it turned out that, without exaggeration, my life was hanging by a thread. But the Lord decided to let me remain in this world. To the doctors’ surprise a miracle took place, and I survived.

Whilst in hospital I received two letters: one from Tatyana Grigor’evna and the other from Irina Ivanovna. Tatyana Grigor’evna sent me a postcard with a very rare photo of Vladimir Sofronitsky:

On the back of the postcard was written: ‘Dear Andryushenka’! I have kept this portrait for a long time, intending to give it to the best Scriabinist. This portrait is the only one that Vladimir Vladimirovich himself liked. I am sending it to you as the best of Scriabinists.’

In the letter from Irina Ivanovna I found a marvellous colour postcard with a view of Nervi (Nervi, Marinella and the Gropallo tower), where Scriabin had been in 1905.

Before my illness Irina Ivanovna had given me an entry ticket to the Museum on which was written: ‘A. N. Scriabin Museum. Ticket No. 1. To Andryusha Golovin.’[3]

I had the honour of getting to know Scriabin’s daughters, Maria Alexandrovna and Elena Alexandrova. Elena Alexandrovna resembled her father very closely, lived to be ninety years old and was still exceptionally attractive and charming.

In the remarkable film of Vladimir Horowitz’ concert in Moscow (Horowitz in Moscow 1986) there is a striking frame: we see Scriabin’s two daughters sitting side by side, while Horowitz is performing their father’s Etude in C sharp minor, op. 2.

Scriabin’s daughters Mariya (L.) and Elena in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatoire during Vladimir Horowitz’ concert on April 20, 1986.

In the same film Horowitz’ visit to the Scriabin Museum is shown: Elena Aleksandrovna is presented to him, and he talks to her about having known her father and then plays the same etude on Scriabin’s piano. We can see Elena Aleksandrovna and Irina Ivanovna sitting together (photo below):

Time passed and I was studying at the Conservatoire. I did not lose touch with the Museum, though I began to visit it more rarely. Tatyana Grigor’evna died in April, 1986. I remember very well that on the day of the funeral (April 7) a small group of people were walking in deep silence behind the coffin towards the open grave. And, unexpectedly, a chant resounded: ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.’ Irina Ivanovna began to sing the Funeral Trisagion chant in her frail voice.

Irina Ivanovna died on August 20, 2020. She was one month short of her hundredth birthday. Despite physical weakness Irina Ivanovna preserved a remarkable mental clarity and an excellent memory. We had long conversations by phone and I would visit her at home. We enjoyed our meetings so much!

In finishing my modest memoirs of the Scriabin Museum I clearly understand that the most important thing for me in that remote time was associating with two remarkable women: Irina Ivanovna Sofronitskaya and Tatyana Grigor’evna Shaborkina. They enveloped me with their love and helped me go on building my life in music.

                                                                                                            Andrei Golovin

                                                                                                            trans. S.N.

                                                                                                            2023

[1] The ‘seven-year’ school (semiletka) was a Soviet institution, an ‘incomplete middle school’ for years 1-7. They became ‘eight-year’ schools in 1958.

[2] The orchestra was the All-Union Radio Orchestra of Moscow. This 1947 recording was reissued on CD as part of a set of all the symphonies and symphonic poems of Scriabin by Archipel: ARPCD 0266.Trans.

[3] For those who do not read Russian, the ticket is printed with the legend: For free entry into the Museum. In the Soviet era this was a State-maintained museum (according to a decree by Lenin after the Revolution); visitors signed a book, so that it could be proven that this was a popular and significant institution. Trans.

Igor Hmelnitsky (1920-1987) plays Scriabin

Igor Hmelnitsky (1920-1987) was an outstanding pianist, son of a Ukrainian who emigrated to the East after the 1917 revolution, travelling via Java, where Igor was born, to Sydney. He had a distinguished Australian career both as pianist and as professor of piano. Luckily for us, the You Tube channel Vintage Sounds has posted items broadcast on ABC in 1970. These represent a wide repertoire and are all important to listen to; but the Scriabin tracks are what concern us here, and they are as follows:

Etude Op. 8 No. 6
Etude Op. 8 No. 7
Etude Op. 8 No. 10

These give us glimpses of a pianist by no means limited to Scriabin in his importance, but with the qualities needed for a fine Scriabinist: a fervid temperament, a huge technique which serves a vivid musical imagination, and a beautiful feeling for tone quality. Let’s hope that this wonderful find brings to light more Hmelnitsky performances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Nicholls

Earlsdon

© 2021

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

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

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

[4] Notebooks p. 70.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with a particular emphasis on freedom within collectivity.

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

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

[14] ‘O prirode’, p. 572.

[15] Notebooks, p. 12.

[16] Notebooks, p. 11.

[17] Notebooks, p. 50.

[18] Notebooks, p. 94.

[19] ‘O prirode’,  p. 592.

[20] Notebooks, p. 158.

Scriabin talk by Dr. Lindsey Macchiarella (USA)

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

Hupfeld Piano Roll Recordings

NEW LIGHT ON SCRIABIN’S FIRST PIANO ROLL RECORDINGS!

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

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

Etude in Ab, Op. 8/8

Feuillet d’Album, Op. 45/1

Mazurka in F minor, Op. 25/1

Mazurka in E minor, Op. 25/3  

Mazurka in F#, Op. 40/2  

Poème in F#, Op. 32/1

Poème in D, Op. 32/2

Prelude in C# minor, Op. 11/10

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

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

Sonata-Fantasie in G# minor, Op. 19

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

The whole playlist  is at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLryhND8aYjAko6P7KE-T_HBxVsxu-qccp 

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

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1fDYWL2t9XiSW9tr8ii5pQ

with a mention and introductory paragraph on the Pianola Institute’s home web page: http://www.pianola.org

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

Simon Nicholls

Scriabin@150: Full Report

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

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

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

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

Session 1a: Ties and Influences

  • Jared Redmond (Seoul National University)

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

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

  • Richard Louis Gillies (Universities of Glasgow and Manchester)

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

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

  • Simon Nicholls (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, retired)

Scriabin and language

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

  • Wendelin Bitzan (Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf)

Scriabin and Medtner: latent influences and intercommunities

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

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

Session 1B: Forces and Motion

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

From unknown Yavorski to Mysterious Scriabin

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

  • Inessa Bazayev (Louisiana State University)

The Scriabin tremor and its role in his oeuvre

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

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

Scriabin’s Metric and Rhythmic Modernism

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

  • Lance Russell (Dallas College) (via Zoom)

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

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

Session 2B: Performance and Interpretation

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

Scriabin plays Scriabin (recital)

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

  • James Kreiling (Guildhall School of Music)

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

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

(Baudelaire, Hymn to Beauty, 1857)

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

Session 2B: Function, Scale, Referentiality

  • Chris Williams (Duke University)

The Harmonic Multiverse: Harmonic Qualia in Scriabin

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

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

  • Keith Salley (Shenandoah University)

Functional conflation and referentiality in Scriabin’s early works

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

  • Adrian Childs (University of Georgia, Athens)

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

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

  • Vasilis Kallis (University of Nikosia)

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

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

  • Mark Johnson (University of Chicago)

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

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

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

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

Dread and fascination as the primary affects in late Scriabin

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

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

Session 3A: The Wagnerian legacy

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

Scriabin’s and Schoenberg’s approach to Gesamtkunstwerk

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

  • David Haas (Hodgson School of Music/UGA)

Scriabin’s Leitmotivic technique: the progress of a method

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

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

Marina Lupishko (Ruhr University Bochum)

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

Russian avant-garde

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

Session 3B: Past and Future: the Late Works

  • Ezra Bartz (Texas State University)

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

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

  • Luigi Verdi (Conservatorio Santa Cecilia, Rome)

From Scriabin’s Prometheus chord to kaleidocycles and tiling canons

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

  • Christoph Flamm (Heidelberg University)

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

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

Session 4A: The Mystery

  • Ali Sansori (Palacky University,Olomuc, Czech Republic

Scriabin and Cosmism

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

  • Hannah McLaughlin (Princeton)

Scriabin’s Utopian ‘Mysterium’

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

  • Manon Fabre (CNSMDP, ENS, Paris

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

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

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

The fourth dimension in Scriabin’s experience

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

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

Session 4B: Scriabin’s Reception

  • Akos Windhager (PhD, Budapest)

Russian Bartok: Hungarian reception of Scriabin in the twentieth century

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

  • Akvile Stuart (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)

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

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

  • Lindsey Macchiarella (University of Texas at El Paso)

Skryabin and Wagner: A Reception Study

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

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

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

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

Session 4c: Flight, dance, and time

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

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

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

  • Kristen Topham (Shenandoah University)

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

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

  • Natalie Pang (Eastman School of Music)

Performing the flight topic in Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata

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

Keynote Address: Marina Frolova-Walker

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

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

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