Yulii Engel’

ALEXANDER NIKOLAEVICH SCRIABIN

A biographical outline [1]

I. Family; years of childhood

The first complete biography of Scriabin (1915)

By Yulii Engel

Translated by Simon Nicholls

Translator’s Note:

Yulii Engel (1868–1927), a leading Moscow critic and musical writer, published this ‘outline’ in the Scriabin memorial edition of Muzykal’nyi sovremennik (‘Musical Contemporary’), a double issue (4–5) for December 1915–January 1916, p. 5–96. It was subsequently published separately. It is still a primary source of great importance, owing to Engel’s unvarnished clarity of exposition and the many contemporary witnesses available to him. The list of names as Engel gave them is reproduced below. As some of these names are obscure now in the west, while others are or have become illustrious, a  commented glossary has been prepared:

Glossary of Engel’s contributors:

Alexander Bryanchaninov, writer, a close friend who accompanied Scriabin on his visit to England; Emil Cooper, conductor of the premiere of The Poem of Ecstasy; Pyotr Jurgenson, music publisher, published Scriabin’s first and last works; Gyorgii Konyus, Scriabin’s first piano teacher apart from his aunt; Leon (Lev) Konyus, brother of Gyorgii, pianist and composer; Sergei Koussevitzky, publisher, patron, conductor, famous in the west in later years as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra;  Mariya [Nemenova]-Lunts, pupil and friend; Margarita Morozova, patron, pupil and friend; Alexander Podgayetsky, close member of the Scriabin circle; Sergei Rachmaninov, conductor, composer, virtuoso pianist; Emilii Rozenov, mathematician, pianist, composer, pupil of Zverev and Safonov; Leonid Sabaneyev, member of Scriabin circle, trained scientist and musician, author of two books, a brochure and numerous articles about Scriabin; Vassilii Safonov, piano professor, conductor; Lyubov Scriabina, Scriabin’s aunt who brought him up and gave him his first instruction in music and general subjects; Tatyana Scriabina (de Schloezer), Scriabin’s partner. Theirs was what is known in Britain as a ‘common law’ marriage and the surname Scriabina, through granted by decree to the children they had together, was a courtesy title for her. Vera Ivanovna Scriabina (Isakovich), pianist, estranged wife of Scriabin;  Sergei Taneyev, composer, teacher; Princess Evgeniya Mikhailovna Shakhovskaya, early Russian aviatrix, follower of Rasputin; Boris de Schloezer, brother of Tatyana, close friend of Scriabin, author of a monograph about the composer (English edition: Scriabin: Artist and Mystic).

Engel’s rare footnotes to his text are marked Y. E. All others are the present translator’s.

Ancestors – Nikolai Alexandrovich Scriabin – Lyubov Petrovna Scriabin, her appearance, character, musical gift – their marriage – Birth of Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin – Death of his mother – father’s career – those who brought up Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin: Elizaveta Ivanovna Scriabina, Lyubov Alexandrovna Scriabin – music with Lyubov Alexandrovna Scriabina – attitude of his elders to Sasha – his character, activities, work – domestic theatre, ‘tragedies’ – first signs of musical gifts – love of musical instruments – inclinations towards  composition – ‘Lisa’ – beginning of musical ‘instruction’ – with Anton Rubinstein.

The Scriabins are an old family of the nobility, amongst whose members have always been many military people. The composer’s grandfather, Alexander Ivanovich Scriabin,[1] a colonel of artillery, lived in Moscow. From his marriage with Elizaveta Ivanovna Podchertkova he had eight children: seven sons and a daughter. The second of these sons, Nikolai Alexandrovich, was destined to become the father of the composer; the only daughter, Lyubov Alexandrovna, to be the closest of those bringing him up.

No member of the Scriabin family had dedicated himself to music, and evidently there were no outstanding musical gifts either. But nearly all of them had an ability for music. The composer’s father, all his uncles and his aunt were interested in music in one way or another. Some played from music, others by ear. The young boys studied at the cadets’ college, and there nearly all of them played in the orchestra, on the flute,  on the clarinet, on the cornet or violin. At Christmas and Easter they all met at home. Their father loved these noisy meetings, and so music resounded in the Scriabin household for whole days: they played, they sang, they danced. This music was, perhaps, often of a low standard in performance or repertoire, but it gave much pleasure to all, it proceeded merrily and in a friendly way. As will be evident later, Lyubov Alexandrovna studied music more seriously than anyone else in the family.

The composer’s father, Nikolai Alexandrovich, also played the piano and could read music; his musicality, though, could hardly be called outstanding. He was born in 1850 and educated in Moscow Gymnasium[2] no. 4. After graduating from there he entered the legal faculty of Moscow University. He was an energetic person, with a powerful character which towards the end became severe, almost despotic, concealing even his innate kindness from others. What he demanded had to be fulfilled.

As a student of the university, spending the summer as a guest on the estate of some friends (the Bernovs) he made the acquaintance of the pianist Lyubov Petrovna Shetinina, and it was she whom he married a few months later (probably at the beginning of 1871).[3]

Lyubov Petrovna was 22 years old at that time (she was born in 1849, coming into existence a year earlier than her husband.) Her father was the director of a State porcelain factory near Petrograd, her brother an artist, not without repute in his day, who spent his short life rather restlessly. Lyubov Petrovna, on leaving Leschetitzky’s class at Petrograd Conservatoire, was amongst the first students to graduate from there. She was considered to be his best pupil. On graduating, indeed, she received the ‘great artistic medal’.

As a student at the conservatoire she was a protégée of the Grand Princess Elena Pavlovna[4] owing to her outstanding abilities. The director of the Conservatoire, Anton Grigorievich Rubinstein, also got on with her very well. She called him ‘papasha’ and Nicolas Grigorievich Rubinstein ‘uncle’.

But, beyond music, Lyubov Petrovna was a very gifted person, responsive to everything, especially to questions of art. Her musical gifts, then, and her artistic characteristics as a composer she inherited from her mother; but from her father, surely, a strong will and persistence (to a high degree in matters of art; in other respects he was much more tractable).

Lyubov Petrovna’s significant, interesting face involuntarily attracted attention, but she could not be called a beauty. She had hair of an unusual ashen colour and black eyebrows. A large portrait of Lyubov Petrovna has been preserved, painted by her brother, the artist Shetinin. Latterly it always hung in Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin’s studio, above his writing table.[5] In the portrait is a young woman with a lively, open, sympathetic face, in the features of which – clearly soft, not prominent, but well-proportioned – there is a definite resemblance to the composer’s face at the same age.

On her graduation from the Conservatoire Lyubov Petrovna appeared in concerts in Petrograd and in provincial Russia. A programme printed on green silk has been preserved, of a concert she gave together with the singer Khvostova[6] on December 18 1870. Judging by the note, ‘Printed in the regional typographic works’, this concert took place in the provinces, in one of the principal towns (most likely in Saratov).[7] Lyubov Petrovna Shetinina appeared here in a demanding programme: she played two pieces by Liszt (the Fantasia on Rigoletto and a Hungarian Rhapsody), a Romance by Rubinstein and a Nocturne by Leschetitzky.

It was at about this time that Lyubov Petrovna and Nikolai Alexandrovich Scriabin were getting to know each other and becoming more intimate. Their marriage, though, was not destined to be long-lasting. Soon after their wedding the newly-weds moved to Saratov. Here Nikolai Alexandrovich tried being an advocate, a very tempting position then because of its novelty ­– there is no doubt that he did not work as a qualified lawyer, as he had left the university without completing the course. Probably, though, business in Saratov worked out poorly. In December 1871 the young couple set off for Moscow; by now it was clear that they had no intention of returning. At this period the time was approaching for Lyubov Petrovna to give birth to her first child. On the way, in the train, she became hot and several times went out onto the ploshadka,[8] breathed the frosty, windy air and immediately felt ill somehow. She was ill on arrival in Moscow and on the same day, at 2 in the morning, gave birth to a son, the future composer.

 This took place on December 25 exactly, on Christmas Day precisely. Later, Alexander Nikolaevich more than once pointed out this coincidence, attributing to it some special mystical significance. At that time, Alexander Nikolaevich’s parents lived close to the Pokrovsky barracks, in the Khiryakova house, which now does not exist. It was here, too, that Alexander Nikolaevich was born. He was christened on December 31 in the Сhurch of the three Holy Hierarchs at the Kulishki. As the birth certificate relates, the godparents were: Alexander Ivanovich Scriabin, colonel of artillery, i.e. the new-born child’s grandfather, and Maria Ivanovna Podchertkova, daughter of a naval lieutenant, i.e. the sister of the new-born’s grandmother.

Lyubov Petrovna recovered from the birth, but her illness seemed to be serious: a suspicious cough appeared after a few weeks, and the doctors diagnosed tuberculosis of the lungs. At first, the illness did not hinder Lyubov Petrovna from working at music; she played a lot, even preparing for concerts. During this time Nikolai Alexandrovich re-enrolled at university.

But the illness began to take on an ever more threatening turn. In September 1872, on the advice of the doctors, the patient was conveyed to South Tirol (Arco, a small town near Lake Garda). But even the last hope of a healing climate was not realised. In April 1873 Lyubov Petrovna died, in the arms of her husband, of the continuing consumption; it was there in Arco that they buried her. It should be mentioned that the children of Lyubov Petrovna’s sister all died of consumption.

After the death of his wife, Nikolai Alexandrovich graduated from university and afterwards moved to Petrograd, where he enrolled at the institute of foreign languages. It was hard to get into this institute, the breeding-ground for diplomatic representatives in the countries of the Orient. There were ten participants in all, enjoying various benefits and privileges. But, owing to his energy (he went himself to Prince Gorchakov),[9] Nikolai Alexandrovich got into the institute, graduated after two years (which was itself unusual) and took up the position of  dragoman[10] at the Russian embassy in Constantinople.

All of Nikolai Alexandrovich’s remaining foreign service took place in the East, in Turkey. After Constantinople he was vice-consul and consul (in Bitola, Adrianopolis, in Crete and elsewhere) and, finally, general consul in Erzerum. Clearly, he did not rise to a major position within the diplomatic profession. According to the accounts of those close to him, this came about because of his lack of compliance in relations with his ‘seniors’. However that may be, unfulfilled hopes rendered Nikolai Alexandrovich all the more reserved and severe. The latter quality was also fostered by the mores of the East, where everyone bowed to the Russian consul. Travelling from there to Moscow, he could not get used for a long time to the fact that passers-by bumped into him in the street as with anybody else. Earlier, before the Sublime Porte,[11] there was none of this.

About eight years after the death of Lyubov Petrovna (in about 1880) Nikolai Alexandrovich married for the second time: abroad, to a young Italian girl, Olga Ilinishna Fernandez. With her he had another four children: three sons (one died in the present war)[12] and a daughter. Amongst these children there were none with musical abilities. They were not even interested in music.

Every three years Nikolai Alexandrovich received four months’ leave and travelled with his family to Europe, spending his time in Russia, Switzerland and elsewhere. In this period he visited his son from the first marriage, and when the boy reached adolescence, sometimes took him along. On these occasions the lad had the chance to get to know his stepmother as well; she behaved very benevolently towards him. Toward the end of his life Nikolai Alexandrovich retired and settled in Switzerland, in Lausanne. It was here that he died on December 20 1914, just four months before his son’s death.

He evidently had little influence on the latter’s upbringing. They lived far from each other and rarely had the opportunity to spend time together.  In addition, Nikolai Alexandrovich was distant from art, in which his son had been from early years more and more consumingly interested. Their views on almost everything diverged, so that it was difficult for them to have discussions. Only at the end, when Alexander Nikolaevich became  a fully grown-up, mature person, more inclined to tolerance, his relations with his father took on a more intimate character. They began to see each other more often and by now could talk and argue in a friendly way; they rarely, though, completely agreed on anything. Not long before their deaths the two of them sought out the grave of Alexander Nikolaevich’s mother, Lyubov Petrovna Scriabina, in Arco.[13]

____________________

It was quite natural and inevitable  that Alexander Nikolaevich was not brought up by his father. In the house of his grandfather and grandmother the child was looked after from the very beginning in the comfort of a family, which he could not have had with his father, either when the latter was studying at the Institute or in distant Turkey. When his father married for the second time the lad was already ten years old. It would have been cruel to uproot him from his own  familiar surroundings, and besides, it was already time to send him to some educational establishment or other, for which purpose Turkey was once again not suitable. Thus the home of his grandfather and grandmother, where Alexander Nikolaevich was born and which he had then  not left for any length of time, completely replaced his parents’ home for him. At the beginning, while Alexander Nikolaevich’s grandfather was still alive, the lad did not require any material support from his father. When the grandfather died (1879) and his pension was reduced, Alexander’s father began to provide the means for his upkeep. But Alexander Nikolaevich was in reality brought up by his grandmother Elizaveta Ivanovna and especially by his aunt Lyubov Alexandrovna.

Elizaveta Ivanovna did not die until December 22 1915, just the other day,[14] in her ninety-third year.  She was a wise and outstanding woman; an upright, energetic, person of the old school, to whom, as they say, one bowed and went willingly. Her sister Mariya Ivanovna, Alexander Nikolaevich’s godmother, always lived with her. Thus it was that Alexander Nikolaevich had two grandmothers who loved him and cared for him equally.

Elizaveta Ivanovna’s only daughter Lyubov Alexandrovna always lived with her (and lives with her to this day).[15] When Alexander Nikolaevich was born she was twenty-one years old.

She was educated at the boarding-school of Larme and Maga, which occupied the very same building in which, after radical reconstruction, the Moscow Conservatoire is now situated. Lyubov Alexandrovna had a great love of music but never studied the basics. In boarding-school she usually had piano lessons from Moiss and Krall, but it was arranged that each boarder could only play the piano for half an hour per day. At the age of fourteen she started to go to the recently founded symphonic concerts of the Russian Musical Society, and this contributed greatly to her musical development. She greatly loved Beethoven and “maybe well, maybe badly, but I played many of his sonatas”. With her friend she played through all the Beethoven symphonies, and also other pieces which she obtained from a music library. Lyubov Alexandrovna never got used to studying anything “thoroughly”, but sometimes she played for whole days at a time and she read music well. Lyubov Alexandrovna’s music-making  was  “put into order” to some extent by Alexander Nikolaevich’s mother Lyubov Petrovna during those few months that they were allotted to live together. Lyubov Petrovna worked with Lyubov Alexandrovna at that time: “she got her to study a few Beethoven sonatas properly.” Without doubt, little Scriabin heard about all of this later.

Having graduated from the boarding school, Lyubov Alexandrovna prepared for the history course of the Ladies’ Gymnasium no. 3 with the help of Nikolai Alexandrovich (the brother who was older than her by two or three years was her closest friend).

From the moment that her beloved brother’s son appeared in the world, Lyubov Alexandrovna helped with his care. In the first three years of  Alexander Nikolaevich’s life he was cared for principally by his grandmother,  who had the essential experience for this which Lyubov Alexandrovna lacked. When the child reached the age of three Lyubov Alexandrovna completed his formative training “and begged the grandmother to give her over fully to Sasha’s care”, all the more so as this gave the grandmother more freedom for her complex obligations regarding the housekeeping. With her tender care and close concern Lyubov Alexandrovna took the place of a mother for Sasha,  and devoted her life to her foster-child and her mother. It was not by chance that to the end of his days Alexander Nikolaevich preserved his warmest and most grateful love for her and indeed for both his grandmothers.

Scriabin’s childhood was passed in these soft, feminine surroundings of the old patriarchal order. There is no doubt that this was connected to some extent with a degree of femininity in Scriabin’s character, even of a pampered nature, one might say, which was manifested even in his appearance and his manner. Later he himself regretted that the atmosphere in which he grew up lacked elements of masculinity.

The grandmother and the aunt adored their Sasha, and the source of their love was not just closeness of relation. This was a child who involuntarily attracted the sympathy of all who had to do with him: soft and at the same time persistent, fond and loving fondness, swift in comprehension and nervously sensitive to impressions. It was difficult to deny him anything. Neither grandmother nor aunt forbade him. They were delighted with all his fancies and tried to fulfil all his wishes. From childhood the lad was used to seeing that all he did found approval and that he was the centre of interest for those around him.

He had no child friends, indeed he did not like them, preferring to be with adults or to occupy himself with something or other. At the age of about five he learned his letters with his grandmother during the absence of his aunt, who was unconditionally obliged to “go away” or even to leave completely for a short time. Then Lyubov Alexandrovna began to work with him a little on reading, taught him writing and penmanship.[16] At about seven he could already read and write. One did not need to make him do anything – either during the lesson hour or anything else. He got on himself with whatever was appropriate and in general did not like to remain idle.

Despite this, however, he never liked to stay alone in a room.[17] Either someone sat with him, or his little table and chair were carried in to the older people’s room, and there, taking no notice of anyone, he got on with his own business: he looked at pictures, wrote, drew, pasted, did fretwork, – and all of these, usually, with great enthusiasm.

He brought elements of his own initiative into all these tasks; even then he worked from patterns and models of some kind. Once he conceived a wish to embroider on a tambour-frame, like his aunt. He was given canvases, threads, but he did not want to embroider on a ready-made pattern but to work out his own, which he then embroidered. Lyubov Alexandrovna preserved a cushion with this embroidery for a long time. He also made use of his fretsaw work for his own tasks (toy grand pianos).

But the lad showed individual and inexhaustible imagination in dramatic scenes, which he put on in his own room with the help of a toy theatre and, later, without it. The Scriabins had a subscription to the Bolshoi Theatre and early on, from the age of five, Lyubov Alexandrovna  also began taking her foster-child to the opera often. The lad fell passionately in love with the stage.  The family started buying  toy theatres with ready-made scenery, little figures and scenarios. But he was not particularly fond of ready-made scenarios; instead, he made up his own or tried to put on stage what he was reading. For example, once he dramatized Gogol’s ‘The Nose’. The spectators were his grandmother and aunt, who usually were delighted with the productions. Later he also began to construct something more like a real stage scene, even with wings at the sides.

Besides dramatisations of what he had read, he also put on his own original ‘tragedies’, partly in prose, partly in verse, which he began to compose at the age of about seven. While writing these ‘tragedies’ (always in the presence of other people, at his little table) he ‘became passionately enthusiastic, jumped up, began to declaim, gesticulating, sat down again and wrote further.’ With all this it often occurred that somewhere in Act Three (that is to say, long before the end, which, of course, was not supposed to occur till Act Five) none of the characters was left alive: they had either died of their own accord or had killed each other. ‘And then, grieved by this outcome which he himself had not expected, began to lament: “Aunt, there’s no-one left to act.”’

Scriabin’s childhood verses and plays were preserved for a long time by Lyubov Alexandrovna, but at the time of the great Moscow flood[18] they perished together with all his childhood letters (the whole correspondence with his father).

The lad’s musical abilities showed themselves very early – already at four, or, more accurately, in his fourth year. His aural ability and musical memory were already striking then. As a lad of five he could easily pick up everything he liked.

In 1877, at the time of the Russo-Turkish War, the boy, together with older boys, accompanied his uncle to the war; his uncle was serving in a regiment of the Izmailovsky guard. At the station an orchestra played a quadrille which was popular then, ‘Byushki’.

On returning home the lad picked it out on the piano; he was not yet six years old. Besides the piano, he also picked out what he heard on other instruments which came to hand: on the violin, on the guitar, on the ocarina.

In Sviblov, where the Scriabins were living at that time in a dacha, he put together something in the nature of an orchestra of little boys, giving each of them a mirliton,[19] a drum etc.

They all sang through these mirlitons, and the five-year-old organiser and inspirer conducted with impassioned enthusiasm (some sort of waltz).[20]

He loved the piano passionately from his earliest years, and not only the music which came from it but the instrument itself. One of his favourite activities was to study the mechanism of the grand piano, its construction from the inside and the outside. He would climb under the piano, considering, listening and observing for a long time.

His favourite outing was – to the music shop. He usually went on this outing with his uncle who was already retired and living quietly in his own house, in the Zlatouskovsky pereulok (side-street). He was a gentle, quiet person who loved children very much. He died when the composer-to-be was six. Uncle and nephew were great friends. Almost every day, when the weather allowed, they set off on foot from the Zlatouskovsky pereulok to the Kuznetsky Most, to the music shop of Meikov, where, amongst other things, Lyubov Petrovna was enrolled in the music hire library.[21] Here Sasha was already well-known and a source of great interest. He cultivated and studied almost every instrument, and in the shop were not only pianos. Sometimes he sat down immediately at a piano and started to play something, improvising, and while he did so he was extremely satisfied if people listened to him with attention.

He also made tiny pianos with great enthusiasm and skill, making not only the lid, the pedals etc., but even the cross-stringing and something which represented the action. In this he was greatly helped by his skill with a fretsaw, which he had been very enthusiastic about at one time. The piano at home was for the child not an object but like something with a soul. When the instrument was being moved the lad was so agitated and frightened by the alarming groaning sounds that he would run off into another room, hide his head under a cushion and stay like that until the piano had been carried out of the house. Sometimes before going to sleep he would kiss the beloved piano as if it were an icon.

The lad showed inclinations towards composition almost from the moment that he first sat down at the piano. He would improvise, not understanding musical notation. In his child’s theatre he would put on not only dramas but also plays with singing, something in the nature of ‘operas’. The history of these is as follows.

At the age of about seven or eight Sasha Scriabin was taken to a children’s party at the house of acquaintances. One of the little girls, Leizinka (Lisa) Ivanova, clearly made a strong impression upon him; right there at the party he gave her a handkerchief of batiste,[22] one of a set which had been sent by his father from Paris. The next day Leizinka’s mother returned the handkerchief to Lyubov Alexandrovna – why break up the set! Thus it was that Sasha and Leizinka’s acquaintance ceased. But it had clearly left a trace in the lad’s soul; he composed an ‘opera’ on this occasion (with a similar romantic theme) and even called it ‘Lisa’.

There were days when he spent whole hours at the piano, contriving to rub holes in the soles of his shoes by means of the pedals. ‘And that’s how those soles burned up, they burn up’,  Lyubov Alexandrovna would sometimes complain. The purchase of new footwear for Sasha (and in general of everything new) threatened especial bother: when it was necessary to go to a shop, he always turned out to be busy with something or other, and to drag him there for a boring fitting was extremely difficult; it was necessary to bring things to the house and there to choose what was suitable.

Nonetheless, when Lyubov Alexandrovna tried to teach the lad musical notation the matter did not go as smoothly as expected. To delve into notation seemed boring to him, he did not have the patience, and he did not so much look at the notes as remember how the piece sounded when it was played. But in the house it was not acceptable to make him work at anything against his wish. Thus it was that one half of his musical literacy was faulty, and he had no wish whatever to play from notation, preferring to play everything by ear or to improvise.

When he was about seven he was taken to see Anton Rubinstein. ‘Don’t trouble the child’, Rubinstein said, ‘let him develop freely, with time everything will come of itself.’ These words encouraged Lyubov Alexandra even more not to make Sasha learn his notes, but to leave this matter to the natural course of events.  


[1] 1811 – May 5, 1879. Y.E.

[2] English equivalent: grammar or secondary school.

[3] This uncertainty as to the marriage date is puzzling. Aunt Lyubov was very close to her brother (see below). It seems she would have known the date, unless the marriage was  in secret or, possibly, in haste.

[4] 1807–1873. Born in Germany as Princess Friederike Marie, she received the name Elena and adopted the patronymic Pavlovna on joining the Russian Orthodox church. Her father was Prince Paul of Württemburg. She married Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich of Russia. After his death in 1849 she became a noted patron of the arts, and in 1862 she founded the St. Petersburg Conservatoire with Anton Rubinstein.

[5] It is still there and can be studied by visitors to the Scriabin Museum, Moscow.

[6] Anna Pavlovna Polyakova-Khvostova (1846–1904), one of Tchaikovsky’s first interpreters in St Petersburg and the dedicatee of ‘None but the Lonely Heart’ (Net, tol’ko tot, kto znal). She had a considerable reputation as a performer of Russian music and became a respected teacher.

[7] Russia before 1929 was divided into gubernii (‘governances’; gubernator = ‘governor’) roughly equivalent to English counties. Saratov was a gubernskii gorod, a ‘provincial town’, meaning the principal town of the province.

[8] The small open platform at each end of the carriage.

[9] Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov (1798–1883) was for more than thirty years the Russian Minister of foreign affairs and for twenty years Chancellor of the Russian Empire.

[10] Interpreter or guide.

[11] The Sublime or Ottoman Porte was the gate leading to the central government buildings of Istanbul. It became a metonym for the government of the Ottoman Empire.

[12] i.e. the First World War. The late Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh was descended from this branch of the family; he referred to A. N. Scriabin, writing to me, as his uncle.

[13] This expedition was described in a letter to Tatyana de Schloezer, his life-partner, by Alexander Nikolaevich. A. V. Kashperov, ed. A. N. Scriabin: Pis’ma [Letters]. Moscow: Muzyka, 1965/2003. p. 613–614. Before September 30 (old style) 1913. ‘I should like to share with you the complicated feeling which has possession of me. Complicated and new for me. But how? It is impossible to speak of it. I should like to communicate it in another way. I regret that you didn’t know the exact time of my visit to the cemetery, in that case I  am certain you would simply have seen all that I experienced at the dear grave. My little darling, I have been suffering much in these days [spent with his father] and the trip to Arco has brought me some relief. I shall tell you of this only when we meet again!’ 

[14] It will be remembered that the issue of Muzykal’nyi sovremennik in which Engel’s biography appeared went to press in January 1916 or possibly the end of 1915. The date on the title page is 1916, but it was common practice to sell journals at the end of the year with the next year’s date on them. This really was ‘just the other day’ for Engel.

[15] Further evidence that the note of Elizaveta Ivanovna’s death was added in haste at the last stage of preparation: this sentence was not brought into line with it.

[16]  Engel’s word is ‘kalligrafiya’, fine or beautiful writing. Scriabin’s handwriting as a young man was frequently hasty, but in maturity his formal, very individual  handwriting and his musical manuscripts were calligraphic masterpieces.

[17] Compare the notebook of 1904–5: ‘I alone exist, the apparent multiplicity is called up by my creative imagination. […] What horror to come to such a conclusion! I am alone!’ Nicholls and Pushkin, The Notebooks of Alexander Skryabin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, p 94.

[18] 1908.

[19] I have given the French equivalent for the Russian ‘paper flute’. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines this instrument as ‘a device in which sound waves produced by the player’s voice or by an instrument vibrate a membrane, thereby imparting a buzzing quality to the vocal or instrumental sound.’ The Russians stretch paper over a short tube, down which one sings. The effect is very like a comb and paper or the modern kazoo. Tchaikovsky idealises it magically by means of three flutes in the ‘Danse des mirlitons’ from the  Nutcracker, locating the instrument in the world of childhood.

[20] In her own account of this incident (written later) Lyubov Petrovna recalled that the five-year-old Scriabin was appalled by the noise of his orchestra and vowed never again to subject himself to anything similar. Notebooks p. 8, quoting Lyubov Petrovna’s ‘Memoirs’ in S. Markus (ed.), A. N. Skryabin:1915–1940; Sbornik k 25-letiyu so dnya smerti. Moscow/Leningrad: State Music Publishers 1940 p.11.

[21] See above in the account of her time in the boarding-school.

[22] Fine linen or cotton.


[1] Materials for this outline were presented to me most willingly by the following, to whom I offer deep gratitude: A. N. Brianchaninov, E. A. Cooper, B. P. Jurgenson, G. E. Konyus, L. E. Konyus, S. A. Kussevitsky, M. S. Lunts, M. K. Morozova, A. A. Podgayetsky, S. V. Rachmaninov, E. K. Rozenov, L. L. Sabaneyev, V. I. Safonov, L. A. Scriabina, T. F. Scriabina, V. I. Scriabina, Princess  E. M. Shakhovskaya, B. F. Shlëtser [Boris de Schloezer],the late S. I. Taneyev. From printed sources I made use of biographical materials from the short work A. N. Scriabin and his creative work by E. O. Gunst and of the article by  L. Sabaneyev, ‘Scriabin and the idea of the Mystery’ (Voice of Moscow, April 1915). Y. E.