was born in Moscow. He studied the piano from an early age, taking lessons
with Nikolay Zverev who was teaching Sergei Rachmaninoff at the same
time. He later studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Anton Arensky,
Sergey Taneyev, and Vasily Ilyich Safonov. He became a noted pianist
despite his small hands with a span of barely over an octave (at one
point he actually damaged his hand from practicing pieces which required
greater hand spans). Scriabin, previously interested in Nietzsche's
übermensch theory, also became interested in theosophy, and both
would influence his music and musical thought. In 1909-1910 he lived
in Brussels, becoming interested in Delville's Theosophist movement
and continuing his reading of Hélène Blavatsky (Samson
1977). Theosophist and composer Dane Rudhyar wrote that Scriabin was
"the one great pioneer of the new music of a reborn Western civilization,
the father of the future musician," (Rudhyar 1926b, 899) and an
antidote to "the Latin reactionaries and their apostle, Stravinsky"
and the "rule-ordained" music of "Schoenberg's group."
A hypochondriac his entire life, Scriabin died in Moscow from septicemia.
For some time before his death he had planned a multi-media work, to
be performed in the Himalayas, that would bring about the armageddon,
"a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald
the birth of a new world" (AMG ). This piece, Mysterium, was
He was the uncle of Vyacheslav Molotov, the Russian politician and eponym
of the Molotov cocktail. Molotov's original surname was Scriabin.
Pianists who have performed Scriabin to critical acclaim include Vladimir
Sofronitzky and Vladimir Horowitz.
Many of Scriabin's
works are written for the piano; the earliest pieces resemble Frederic
Chopin and include music in many forms that Chopin himself employed,
such as the etude, the prelude and the mazurka. Later works, however,
are strikingly original, employing very unusual harmonies and textures.
The development of Scriabin's voice or style can be followed in his
ten piano sonatas: the earliest are in a fairly conventional late-Romantic
idiom and show the influence of Chopin and Franz Liszt, but the later
ones move into new territory, the last five being written with no key
signature. Many passages in them can be said to be atonal, though from
1903 through 1908, "tonal unity was almost imperceptibly replaced
by harmonic unity." (Samson 1977) See: mystic chord.
Aaron Copland praised Scriabin's thematic material as "truly individual,
truly inspired", but criticized Scriabin for putting "this
really new body of feeling into the strait-jacket of the old classical
sonata-form, recapitulation and all" calling this "one of
the most extraordinary mistakes in all music." According to Samson
the sonata-form of Sonata No. 5 has some meaning to the work's tonal
structure, but in Sonata No. 6 and Sonata No. 7 formal tensions are
created by the absence of harmonic contrast and "between the cumulative
momentum of the music, usually achieved by textural rather than harmonic
means, and the formal constraints of the tripartite mould." He
also argues that the Poem of Ecstasy and Vers la Flamme "find a
much happier co-operation of 'form' and 'content'" and that later
Sonatas such as Sonata No. 9 employ a much more flexible sonata-form.
Influence of Color
Though these works are often considered to be influenced by Scriabin's
synaesthesia, a condition wherein one experiences stimulus in one sense
in response to real stimulus in another sense, it is most likely Alexander
Scriabin did not actually experience the physiological condition of
synaesthesia. His color system, unlike most synaesthetic experience,
lines up with the circle of fifths, indicating that it was a thought-out
system influenced by his theosophic readings and based on Sir Isaac
Newton's Optics. However, this pioneering use of multimedia also was
influenced by Scriabin's theosophical beliefs; specifically, he thought
he could bring about the end and rebirth of the world through a grand
performance including music, scent, dance, and light that would take
place in the Himalayas.
While Scriabin wrote only a small number of orchestral works, they are
among the most famous portion of his output, and some are frequently
performed. They include 3 symphonies, a piano concerto (1896), The Poem
of Ecstasy (1908) and Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910), which includes
a part for a "clavier à lumières" - an implement
played like a piano, but which flooded the concert hall with coloured
light rather than sound. Few performances of the piece, including the
premiere, have included this light element, although a performance in
New York City in 1915 projected colours onto a screen.
considered himself to be a messianic figure, and he was actually half
justified—he really was born on Christmas Day 1871, but several
Russian biographers, in an overzealous attempt to enhance this messianic
reputation, erroneously attribute the date of his death to Easter Sunday,
April 14, 1915, when in actuality, Easter Sunday came early that year,
on March 29. He died amidst the immense conflagration that was gripping
all of Europe at the time—the “Great” War, which he
thought would purge mankind and usher in a glorious new era of mystical
wonder. Inspired by Wagner’s ideas concerning Gesamntkunstwerk,
he even planned on composing a mammoth piece, the Mysterium, to commemorate
this cataclysmic event. “The performance of this piece was to
take place in a half-temple to be built in India. Bells suspended from
clouds would summon the spectators from all over the world. A reflecting
pool of water would complete the divinity of the half-circle stage.
Spectators would sit in tiers across the water. Scriabin would be seated
at the piano, surrounded by hosts of instrumentalists, singers, and
dancers. Costumed speakers reciting text in processions and parades
would form part of the action along with the dancers, whose choreography
would include eye motions and touches of the hands in conjunction with
odors of both pleasant perfume and acrid smoke. Pillars of incense would
form part of the scenery. A light show, bathing the cast and audience
in changing effects would also be included.” Unfortunately he
died before completing this work, only a fraction of this revolutionary
piece, the Prefatory Action was sketched out (it was completed by Alexander
out as a prodigy pianist, studying as a boy with the renowned Moscow
pedagogue Nikolai Zverev, whose other star pupil was Sergei Rachmaninoff—interestingly,
Scriabin started out as a pianist and ended up a composer, and to a
large extent, Rachmaninoff started out as a composer and ended up a
pianist. A hand injury, suffered supposedly while over-practicing the
Don Juan Fantasie of Liszt, forced Scriabin to turn to composition—two
of the most famous left hand pieces in the piano repertoire, the Nocturne
and Prelude Op. 9 were of course, a direct result of this, and later,
also the 1st Piano Sonata. Although he eventually returned to the concert-stage,
his right hand never was quite the same, and may explain why in so many
of his compositions the left hand is technically the equal (and often
surpasses) the right hand. Cesar Cui, in a concert review of Scriabin
from 1905 complained that Scriabin’s left hand actually overwhelmed
Like his early idol Chopin, aside from the five orchestral works and
a piano concerto, Scriabin wrote exclusively for the piano. The ten
sonatas of Scriabin provide a marvelous harmonic timeline, and provide
perhaps the best way to view his compositional evolution since they
virtually encompass his entire compositional lifespan.
The 1st Sonata in F minor, Op. 6, with strong intimations of Liszt,
Wagner and Chopin, was written in 1892. Thematically this piece is bound
together by a rising F-G-Ab motive that is echoed in each of the four
movements; although some writers have pointed to the Brahms F minor
sonata, Op. 5 as an influence, I feel that an even more obvious model
is Schumann’s Sonata, Op. 14, which is also in F minor, as Schumann
utilizes a descending fifth motive in each movement of that work, and
is a work that Scriabin was very likely to have been familiar with.
The final movement, a self-indulgent Funeral March, is directly connected
to the hand injury he suffered, which Scriabin describes in a notebook
entry from 1891:
Twenty years old: the injury to my hand has developed. The most important
event in my life. Fate sends me forth on my mission. The obstacle to
the achievement of the goal so highly desired: fame, glory. An obstacle,
in the words of the doctors, that is insurmountable. The first serious
failure in my life. The first serious meditation: the beginning of analysis.
Doubts about the impossibility of getting well, but the gloomiest state
of mind. The first meditation on the value of life, on religion, on
God. A continuing strong belief in Him (Jehovah rather than Christ,
it seems). Ardent, heartfelt prayer, visits to the church…Cried
out against fate, and against God. Composition of my first sonata with
a funeral march.
The Presto 3rd movement features the F-G-Ab three-note motive hammered
away in the bass, signifying in Scriabin’s words: “defiant
cries, and supplications before God and fate.” This movement leads
directly into the lugubrious Funeral March finale. Scriabin himself
performed this work in its entirety only once in his lifetime. This
is a significant point, as later on in his life, Scriabin was to perform
his sonatas on numerous occasions, regardless of whether they were early,
middle, or late period works; aside from the 6th sonata, which will
be discussed later.
The 2nd Sonata, in a slow-fast two-movement construction, was completed
five years later. Much lighter in texture and character than the 1st
sonata, this is a graceful, gorgeously prismatic work based upon, “the
influence of the sea…the first movement represents the quiet of
the southern night on the seashore; the development is the dark agitations
of the deep sea. The E major middle section shows caressing moonlight
coming after the first darkness of night. The second movement, presto,
represents the vast expanse of ocean stormily agitated.” The triplet
left hand figuration in mm 13-15 of the first movement seems to suggest
the gentle undulations of lapping waves which later transform into the
turbulent right hand triplets in the presto 2nd movement.
One can group the 3rd, 4th and 5th sonatas together because they share
many qualities. All are in the key of F#. In the 3rd sonata, the struggle
between F# major and minor (with ultimately the minor key prevailing)
defines the work; while in the 4th and 5th sonatas the key of F# major
lends a brightness and warmth to both pieces. All three sonatas have
rather lengthy programmatic prose that Scriabin attached to each piece,
and finally, the three sonatas also share a common compositional process
which starts with the 3rd sonata.
Dubbed “Etats d’Ame”, or “Soul States”,
the dramatic and ferocious 3rd Sonata in four movements is, according
to the biographer, Sabaneeff “where the real Scriabin shows his
face…clear, powerful and all his own.” The prose that Scriabin
attached to describe the work, as you can see, goes through each movement:
I: The free, untamed Soul plunges passionately into an abyss of suffering
II: The Soul, weary of suffering, finds illusory and transient respite.
It forgets itself in song, in flowers. But this vitiated and uneasy
Soul invariably penetrates the false veil of fragrant harmonies and
III: The Soul floats on a tender and melancholy sea of feeling. Love,
sorrow, secret desires, inexpressible thoughts are wraithlike charms.
IV: The elements unleash themselves. The Soul struggles within their
vortex of fury. Suddenly, the voice of the Man-God rises up within the
Soul’s depths. The song of victory resounds triumphantly. But
it is weak, still…When all is within its grasp, it sinks back,
broken, falling into a new abyss of nothingness.
Clearly Scriabin’s evoking of the “Man-God” is heavily
influenced from Nietzche. It should be mentioned that Scriabin was influenced
at this time by the writings of both Nietzche and Shopenhauer. As mentioned
before, Scriabin in the 3rd, 4th and 5th sonatas employs a similar compositional
technique. Here, in the 3rd Sonata the gorgeous, languid melody from
the 3rd movement, which he describes as “the stars singing”—is
brought back in the fourth movement at its climax, transmogrified into
the triumphant hymn of the Man-God.
This process is even more pronounced in the 4th Sonata, a two-movement
work (although the first leads directly into the second) where once
again the opening motive, which Scriabin described as “the striving
upward toward ideal creative power” is restated in the ecstatic
coda, augmented with vehement repeated chords.
Cast in a single movement mold, we find once again as in the 3rd and
4th Sonatas, the climax of the piece has the transmogrification of the
languid theme re-cast with triumphant chordal accompaniment, here even
more vehement than in either the 3rd or 4th sonatas. The similarity
between the languid themes in all three sonatas is quite striking, most
notably the spanning of a perfect fourth initially.
Harmonically the 3rd, 4th, and 5th sonatas show an almost seamless process,
weakening the importance of the tonic chord as a tonal center as Scriabin
relies more and more on the dominant ninth chord with a flattened 5th.
Incomplete whole-tone scales are also becoming more and more frequently
employed and the move away from traditional triadic harmony in favor
of quartal harmony is well underway.
In discussing these final sonatas, a complete harmonic analysis is clearly
beyond the scope of this summation, however one should attempt to briefly
clarify several harmonic issues and show how these new developments
are incorporated in his late works: the so-called “mystic chord”
is actually one of many Scriabin used in which a whole-tone dominant
chord is suspended over a tonic root. Scriabin uses this chord not only
in the vertical sense, but in the horizontal sense as well. Although
neither whole tone nor octatonic, the mystic chord contains elements
of both—to clarify, a whole tone scale is just that, a scale that
contains no semi-tones. An octatonic scale is generated by alternating
whole tones and semitones (C-C#-D-E-F#-G-A-A#, and C-D-D#-F-F#-G#-A-B).
When arranged horizontally, the mystic chord has, as stated before,
elements of both. Scriabin never slavishly adheres to either a whole-tone
or octatonic scale in his late works; but manipulates the octatonic
scale by adding a whole-tone scale with it. As a result, the separation
between ‘harmony’ and ‘melody’ becomes extremely
blurred, as these two elements begin to merge and become interchangeable.
Scriabin was fond of saying that “melody is harmony unfurled”,
and I would also say that the corollary to that axiom is also true in
the late works.
An interesting side-note to this harmonic evolution, is how Scriabin
also evolves his written expression markings in the score itself. In
the first two sonatas, the markings are entirely in Italian, and rather
chaste with run of the mill marking such as meno mosso, marcato, rubato,
etc. With the 3rd, 4th, and 5th sonatas, the Italian begins to border
on the bizarre, as he peppers the score with markings such as con voglio,
quietissimo, focusamente, con stravaganza, and my personal favourite:
accarezzevole. Such terms I refer to as Scritalian, for lack of a better
word. In several pieces, most notably the Divine Poem, he uses both
Italian and French terms, but then suddenly, from Op. 60 onwards, he
switches almost exclusively to French. There are no writings in Scriabin’s
own words that I have come across to explain this change in notation,
but it’s almost as if he had to adapt and shift his entire aesthetic
to accommodate this new harmonic system, and I find it not at all coincidental
that these changes occurred on parallel tracks.
Which now leads us to the final five sonatas in Scriabin’s output.
With his new harmonic system firmly in place, Scriabin now treats the
sonata form as a self-contained solipsistic entity contained within
a single movement. As in a traditional classical sonata form first movement,
characters (or subjects) are introduced, these characters are manipulated
and developed, a clear recapitulation occurs which then leads to, in
Scriabin’s case, some sort of vertiginous coda in which all the
characters are put through even more radical manipulation. This often
occurs in the form of extreme acceleration and truncation of the characters,
along with a rhythmic thrust suggestive of a final orgiastic dance.
Eaglefield Hull, a noted Scriabinist, describes these codas as “Skyrabinic
dances of cosmic atoms, mounting with ever-increasing palpitation into
a veritable molecular vertigo.” The endings of these sonatas are
perplexing in that they don’t really end in the traditional sense.
Rather, they seem to expire, as if exhausted from the previous exertion.
Usually the sonatas close in a flutter of trills (as in the 6th, 7th
and 8th do), or restate the opening (as in the 9th and 10th). Aaron
Copland went as far as to call these last five sonatas, “one of
the most extraordinary mistakes in music…the quality of his thematic
material was truly individual, truly inspired. But Scriabin…had
the fantastic idea of attempting to put this really new body of feeling
into the straight-jacket of the old classical sonata form, recapitulation
and all.” One could argue, however, that by putting his esoteric
harmony into such tight constraints, Scriabin was able to bring some
semblance of order and structure to these works without sacrificing
the mystical message he so fervently sought. Another unique facet to
these last five sonatas is the pervasive use of trills. Trills for Scriabin,
were not simply ornamental, or even coloristic compositional devices.
Their importance to his aesthetic ran much deeper. To Scriabin, trills
were, “palpitations…vibrations from the universe.”
Trills also signify light, as we shall see in the 10th sonata later
The 6th Sonata was completed in 1911. Scriabin, who premiered virtually
all of his works, specifically did not premiere the 6th Sonata. Moreover,
he never did perform it publicly, claiming to be terrified of this creation.
When describing it, he employed words such as “nightmarish…fuliginous…murky…dark
and hidden…unclean…mischievous.” Indications in the
score take on lavish and bizarre proportions; phrases such as “mysteriously
whispering”, “the dream takes shape”, and “the
surging terror mixes with the delirious dance” charge the score
with strong programmatic overtones. “When he [Scriabin] played
excerpts for friends, he would stare off in the distance away from the
piano, as if watching effluvium rise from the floor and walls around
him. He seemed frightened and sometimes shuddered. Its mood directly
inherits the inchoate, incomprehensible, unformed chaos of the dark
The 7th Sonata, in direct opposition to the 6th, Scriabin adored. He
performed it liberally, satisfied that he had finally purged his music
of all human elements and composed a work of highest mysticism. The
work was dubbed “White Mass” by Scriabin himself, and features
dazzling pianistic textures depicting “fountains of fire”,
“mystic clouds”, and “trumpets of archangels”—very
heady stuff, indeed. Yet despite this dichotomy in Scriabin’s
feelings between the two sonatas, I paired them together because they
share many common traits in harmony, figuration and form. Both works
strictly follow the allegro movement sonata form, both have massive
climaxes before the recapitulation, and both have extensive codas which
test the outer limits of the piano’s range, and in addition, the
similarities between the 2nd subjects of these sonatas is telling. The
five notes from the 2nd subject in the 6th sonata are pervasively used
throughout the piece, as are the four notes in the 2nd subject from
the 7th sonata. However, while in the 7th sonata, this four note harmony,
two minor thirds separated by a fourth, gives a more open, bright sound;
in contrast the five note motive employed in the 6th sonata is darker,
closed, and more dense, the chord sounds much harsher because of the
minor second. Perhaps this is why he felt so strongly that the 6th was
weighted more in favour of evil than good.
Although chronologically listed as the 8th Sonata, it was actually the
final one completed, in 1913, because he had difficulty finishing one
particular section. The longest of the final five, it features an extensive
introduction with exceedingly complex counterpoint, something Scriabin
was extremely proud of. The 8th Sonata is a piece depicting nature in
terms of the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. One can hear
the earth in the solidity of the opening chords, air in the cascading
double notes, water in the undulating left hand figuration (which if
you recall is very similar to the left hand figuration in the 2nd sonata),
and fire in the arpeggiated figurations and trills. A double development
leads to a vertiginous coda where all the elements combine in a final
Undoubtedly the most famous of the final five sonatas is the demonic
9th Sonata, popularly known as the “Black Mass” (although
the title was not given by Scriabin himself). An opening prelude, marked
“as if recounting a legend” leads into a rhythmic cell,
in triplets, that eventually poisons and ultimately dominates the piece.
Although there is a 2nd subject, there is no recapitulation in a formal
sense, instead “one senses a continuous structure of ever increasing
elaboration and tension”, lending a compactness to this piece
unlike the 10th sonata, which sound much more expansive in contrast.
If the 9th Sonata deals in darkness, the 10th unequivocally deals with
light. Dubbed the “Trill Sonata”, the 10th Sonata is a luminous
work—Scriabin is quoted as saying, “my 10th Sonata is a
sonata of insects. Insects are born from the sun…they are the
sun’s kisses”. The profusion of trills, along with the thirds
and open fifths lends a brightness and incandescence to this glorious
piece, a piece that also expresses the vastness of nature. Perhaps under
the influence of having composed this piece during the summer in Aleskin,
a small town on the banks of the Oka River, this work “emerges
with crystal clarity full of quiet and peace and”, according to
Scriabin himself, “expresses the impression of a great forest.”
The opening prelude’s theme is a simple sequence of two thirds,
one major, one minor, which is then answered by a chromatic figure and
a rolled ninth chord that would almost seem to suggest a bird-call.
This then leads to a five-note motive that becomes engulfed by a trill
and is immediately followed by a heraldic rising 5th figure—also
enhanced by a trill, repeated three times. These elements are all incorporated
in the development, with the trills having been expanded into massive
tremolo figures between the hands. Unlike the 9th sonata, whose development
leads directly to the coda, the 10th sonata reaches a shattering climax
in the development before then having a clear recapitulation of the
original material and them embarks upon the skittish, frenetic coda,
and like the 9th sonata, recounts the opening prelude in truncated form,
before ending, quite remarkably in a IV-I cadence in C major.
Scriabin once proudly boasted that, “only my music expressed the
inexpressible”. With these ten sonatas, a whole new dimension
of colours, textures, and expression is conjured forth with breathtaking
skill. Scriabin’s final works tantalizingly hint at what new worlds
he would possibly conquer—merging all the art forms in a true
Gesamtkunstwerk; and sadly we can only ponder what might have been in
his all too brief life, but rejoice in all the glorious music that poured
from his scorching brain.
(Aleksandr Skriabin) was born 25 December 1871 in Moscow. His mother
died when he was two, and he was then raised by a grandmother and his
Aunt Liubov. He began formal study of the piano at 12 with Georgy Conus.
In 1884-85 he studied piano with Nikolai Zverev, at whose house a small
group of piano pupils boarded, including 11-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff.
He entered the Moscow Conservatory at 17, studying piano with Vasily
Sofonov. He learned theory with Sergei Taneyev, and was in Anton Arensky's
composition class where classmate and friend Rachmaninoff was Arensky's
star pupil. Ironically, Arensky once threatened to flunk Scriabin who
was musically somewhat too adventurous for his teacher.
In 1892, Scriabin sought to graduate a year early like Rachmaninoff
but was refused by Arensky, whereupon, enraged, Scriabin quit and set
out on a career as a concert pianist and recitalist. In 1897 he married
pianist Vera Ivanovna Isakovich, The following year, Moscow Conservatory
piano professor Paul Schloezer died, and Scriabin took his place. By
1902, the Scriabins had three daughters (Rimma, Elena, and Maria) and
one son (Lev).
During this time, he became interested in Goethe and Nietzsche. Then,
in 1903, he left his post at the Moscow Conservatory. At the same time,
he began an extramarital love affair with Schloezer's niece, the seductively
attractive Tatyana Fyodorovna.
The first significant phase of his artistic career (1891-1902, comprising
opus nos. 4-28) is marked by sets of piano works in smaller forms (preludes,
mazurkas, études, etc), modelled on the styles of Chopin and
Liszt. In these works, however, Scriabin goes beyond his models, bringing
an extra richness, delicacy, and clarity to the idiom of his early romantic
predecessors. The enthusiasm and intensity in some of Scriabin's mazurkas,
for example, make them seem at times more brilliantly 'Chopinesque'
than Chopin himself! The Second and Third Sonatas give further witness
to the fresh vitality Scriabin will bring to this form.
In the early years of the century, Scriabin devoted much of his effort
to symphonic writing, and it was through this that he first achieved
a major metamophosis in personal idiom, strongly coloured with Wagerian
harmony. Scriabin produced his first and second symphonies, and his
Divine Poem, or Third Symphony, during this time. His robust and passionate
Fourth Piano Sonata is a good example of this transitional period, especially
in contrast with both the Third and Fifth sonatas.
From 1904 to 1908, Scriabin lived abroad. In 1904 he went to a philosophy
conference in Geneva, and heard Wagner's Die Walküre in Paris.
In 1906 a daughter Ariadna was born - his first child by Tatiana. During
the 1906-07 season, he made his American debut with his own Piano Concerto,
but his tour was abruptly curtailed when its sponsors feared public
impact were it discovered that he was still married to a woman other
than the one he was with. In Brussels, he frequented theosophical circles,
both satisfying and feeding his impulse for spiritual and philosophical
realms. At this time, he composed both his striking Fifth Sonata and
his orchestral Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54. His compositions, whose harmonic
language was now marked by a more elaborate chromaticism, were increasingly
given titles of a symbolist bent (eg., Poème ailé, Poème
In 1908, a second child, a son, Julian, was born to Scriabin and Tatiana
Fyodorovna. With the completion of his last symphonic work (The Poem
of Fire: Prometheus), Scriabin completely broke through all tonal constraints
and devised a harmonic style based on superimposition of diminished
and augmented fourths - though it is also much more than this.
The five last years
of his life were devoted solely to the piano. These compositions include
Sonatas 6 through 10, sets of smaller-scale pieces, and especially Vers
la Flamme. His seventh and last child, Marina, was born, and his father
and his son, Lev, also died. At the same time, he was an active performing
artist. With Serge Koussevitzky and the Imperial Bolshoi Orchestra,
he went as piano soloist on a Volga steamboat tour. He also made numerous
acclaimed appearances as a solo recitalist in Moscow, St. Petersburg,
and London. In this final period, Scriabin abandons even the need for
any form of rhythmic beat, instead superimposing different time-values,
through a layering of harmonic and thematic material, and making use
of acoustic effects like trills and tremolos.
He died rather abruptedly in Moscow on 14 April 1915 after developing
septicemia - consequence of an initially small untreated infection he
developed on his lip beneath his rich 'trademark' moustache. His death
came as a great shock to many. Rachmaninoff, one of his deep admirers,
shortly thereafter changed to all-Scriabin programs in his recitals
for a time, as if to awaken and remind the musical world of the true
nature and extent of its premature loss.
Scriabin's pianistic technique exhibits a propensity for broad appegiated
intervals, octaves and chords, demanding swift and often difficult jumps.
He was a sort of musical representative of Symbolism, immersed in hazy
mystical ideologies derived from Eastern philosophical and religious
sources. Scriabin sought to stretch music to its limits of sonorous
density and expression, toward creating an atmosphere of spiritual and
esthetic ecstasy. He eventually envisioned the ideal musical experience
as a multi-sensory "synaesthetic" event, which would also
incorporate a visual dimension in the form of a light-and-color display
- an idea 60 or 70 years ahead of its time with regard to the requisite
technology and audience receptivity.
While Scriabin certainly stands in stark contrast to his nationalist
Russian contemporaries, his 'feet' rest solidly in tradition while his
'hands' reach toward a future yet unknown in his time. In Donald Garvelmann's
Scriabin's music embraces the past and the future, formality and freedom.
Its large range of expression - anger, fear, heroism, darkness, mystery,
evil, light, fire, flight, intoxication, languor, love, six, ecstasy
- is the very connective tissue of his life and thought. His remarkable
harmonic scheme is like a burgeoning new language but with few cognates.
His works are experiences of an inexhaustible range of color, from the
most delicate nuance to rich multi-voiced textures, and of (his favorite
Born: 6 January
1872, Moscow (Russia)
Died: 27 April 1915, Moscow (Russia)
Skriabin, the noted Russian composer, was born on Christmas Day and
died at Eastertide -- according to Western-style calendrical reckoning,
7 January 1872 - 14 April, 1915. No one was more famous during his lifetime,
and few were more quickly ignored after his death. Although he was never
absent from the mainstream of Russian music, the outside world neglected
him until recently. Today, there is worldwide resurgence of interest
in his music and ideas.
Skriabin wrote five symphonies, including the Divine Poem (1903), the
Poem of Ecstasy (1907), and the Poem of Fire or Prometheus (1909). His
ten piano sonatas are staples of many pianists' repertoire, with the
Fifth being perhaps the most popular, while the Seventh (White Mass)
and Ninth (Black Mass) follow close. Vladimir Horowitz in his late sixties
began playing the Tenth, and it remains today in vogue among more daring
virtuosi. Skriabin's style, like Beethoven and Schönberg and unlike
Mozart or Brahms, changed enormously as he progressed. The early pieces
are romantic, fresh and easily accessible, while his later compositions
explore harmony's further reaches. It is thought by scholars, that had
Skriabin lived beyond his brief 43 years, he would have preceded the
Austrian school of duodecaphony, and Moscow would have become the center
Immediately upon Skriabin's sudden death, Sergei Rachmaninoff toured
Russia in a series of all-Skriabin recitals. It was the first time he
played music other than his own in public. In those days Skriabin was
known as a pianist and Rachmaninoff was considered only as a composer.
Skriabin, thus, was posthumously responsible for his friend and classmate's
later pianistic career in Europe and America.
Skriabin's thought processes were immensely complicated, even tinged
with solipsism. "I am God," he once wrote in one of his secret
philosophical journals. He embraced Helen Blavatsky's Theosophy. In
London he visited the room in which Mme. Blavatsky died. Skriabin considered
his last music to be fragments of an immense piece to be called Mysterium.
This seven-day-long megawork would be performed at the foothills of
the Himalayas in India, after which the world would dissolve in bliss.
Bells suspended from clouds would summon spectators. Sunrises would
be preludes and sunsets codas. Flames would erupt in shafts of light
and sheets of fire. Perfumes appropriate to the music would change and
pervade the air. At the time of his death, Skriabin left 72 orchestral-size
pages of sketches for a preliminary work Prefatory Action, intended
to "prepare" the world for the apocalyptic ultimate masterpiece.
Alexander Nemtin, the Russian composer, assembled those jottings and
co-created the Prefatory Action. Its three vast movements have been
performed with great acclaim under conductors
I have always been interested in Alexander Skriabin, and love his "tristanesque"
music a lot. When considering him as a centaur subject, I was discouraged
by the strong Pluto and 8th house:
Sun = 15,31 Cap (8th house)
Saturn = 12,38 Cap (8th)
This is the same aspect and position that is found in the chart of "Tristan
und Isolde" (though in different sign). If one takes:
Moon = 18,00 Scorpio
Pluto = 18,02 Taurus Rx.
then it comes as no surprise the way he died: streptococus-staphylococus
blood poisoning and bacteremia (age 43). It is also not a surprise his
erotic and mystic obsessions and delusions (he considered himself some
sort of messiah of a new form of "total" music composition
and performance that enclosed smells, colors, etc, in addition to sound...
Perhaps this is where the centaurs are significant: Pholus "overflowing",
going out of himself and engulfing the other in a state of mystical
and erotic bliss. His 4th symphony, "The Poem of Ecstasy"
I feel as very strongly pholusian, with the tristanesque ecstasy at
the end, which is a marvelous pholus rapturous spreading of wings.
this could be related to the aspect:
Midheaven = 12,54 Aquarius
Pholus = 12,49 Aquarius
but, considering how dark and tormented his music may sound, like a
mystery of light and darkness, the following nay be indicative:
Ascendant = 25,11 Gemini
idea (or experience) of rapture and ecstasy in relationship to Pholus,
something that is evident in the chart of Tristan and Isolde (you can
check my article in my web page), here is the signature in the case
of Scriabin, taken from the chart of death (April 14, O.S., 1915, Moscow,
8 a.m., from a biography by Faubion Bowers, 1969):
Venus = 29,52 Pisces
Neptune = 27,08 Cancer
Pholus = 29,55 Scorpio
This water grand trine can be compared to the one of Tristan (Moon/Venus
- Nessus/Neptune, triggered by a Pholus opposition to Venus-Nessus),
also in water signs, although it is less "pure" here: Nessus
is not so directly involved, and instead we have:
Pluto = 29,53 Gemini
Saturn = 27,54 Gemini
These planets give a more negative tone to Venus (square), comparable
maybe to the fact that he died of venereal disease. Finally, there an
interesting partile "Finger of God":
Moon = 5,16 Libra
HD12 = 5,25 Sagittarius Rx
and at the focus:
Sun = 5,29 Taurus
To me, the more cometary centaurs: SN55, 1995GO, Nessus, Pholus, and
HD12, have "wings" and are more savage and far-out.
Converse transits at the time of death are also very revealing:
natal Sun = 15,31 Cap
tr.Mars = 15,05 Cap
tr. Neptune = 16,14 Cap
in the natal 8th house. As I write this, I am listening to his 4th Symphony,
"Poeme de l'extase"... it is devilish and ecstatic, wildly
enrapturing and frightening, supposedly describing a sort of liturgical
sexual act, full of wild eroticism and sexual tenderness, and you can
feel the final orgasmic apotheosis in the end.
Scriabin was born
Dec. 25 1871, old style calendar, January 6 1872 new style, in Moscow.
the time, 2 P.M., appears in page 20 of a biography by Fabion Bowers
"The New Scriabin", David & Charles, 1974. I took the
data directly from the book when I was in California many years ago
Subject: Re: Asbolus
<<... came across Scriabin's birth data but didn't see if he had
Asbolus near any major point in his chart. His music is most definitely
"out there" enough to be in the Asbolus category.>>
you must have seen this:
Ascendant = 25,11 Gemini
1995GO = 27,41 Gemini Rx.
<<Also what about Debussy, which centaurs does he have aspecting
Moon = 21,03 Cancer
Qm107 = 22,22 Cancer
Venus = 0,58 Leo
Pholus = 0,08 Leo
Sun = 28,47 Leo
Hylonome = 26,18 Leo
<<would be curious to see also Webern's positions...
Anton Webern, b.3 Dic. 1883 at 3 a.m. (need confirmation)
Pluto = 0,02 Gemini
Chiron = 0,26 Gemini
Ascendant = 18,39 Cancer
Asbolus = 19,58 Cancer
hated Scriabin's music, and couldn't stand what he called its voluptuousness"
and "gross orchestration", <<those very severe cases
of musical emphysema that were his symphonic poems>>, to which
his mother would say <<I see, Igor, that you haven't changed all
these years. You have always been like that, deprecating those who were
better than you!