Alexander Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin


• 1872 1915

Editor's Choice

Greatly influenced by theosophy, his experience of synaesthesia, and the music of Frédéric Chopin, Alexander Scriabin composed almost exclusively for orchestra, and his own instrument, the piano. His interest in philosophy and experience of colours and shapes inform a catalogue that is heavy on symbols and packed with significance. This 2015 album features Scriabin's first and fourth symphonies. Composed between 1899 and 1908, these works consist of six and one movements respectively and are quite different in scope. Scriabin was fond of composing verse as well as music and wrote poetry to accompany both works. Despite being advised that the vocal parts based on his poem in his first symphony were unsingable, the work was very well received, and Scriabin was awarded a Glinka Prize in 1900 for his efforts. Less a traditional symphony than a tone poem, the score of 'Le Poème de l'extase' was accompanied by more than 300 lines dreamed up by Scriabin, but are a companion to the work rather than a feature. If your familiarity with Scriabin is largely through his piano music, this album is a fantastic first step on the path of discovery of his other work.


Mystic, visionary, virtuoso, and composer, Scriabin dedicated his life to creating musical works which would, as he believed, open the portals of the spiritual world. Scriabin took piano lessons as a child, joining, in 1884, Nikolay Zverov's class, where Rachmaninov was a fellow student. From 1888 to 1892, Scriabin studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included Arensky, Taneyev, and Safonov. Although Scriabin's hand could not easily stretch beyond an octave, he developed into a prodigious pianist, launching an international concert career in 1894. Scriabin started composing during his Conservatory years. Mostly inspired by Chopin, his early works include nocturnes, mazurkas, preludes, and etudes for piano. Typical examples of Romantic music for the piano, these works nevertheless reveal the composer's strong individuality. Toward the end of the century, Scriabin started writing orchestral works, earning a solid reputation as a composer, and obtaining a professorship at the Moscow Conservatory in 1898. In 1903, however, Scriabin abandoned his wife and their four children and embarked on a European journey with a young admirer, Tatyana Schloezer. During his sojourn in Western Europe, which lasted six years, Scriabin started developing an original, highly personal musical idiom, experimenting with new harmonic structures and searching for new sonorities. Among the works composed during this time was the Divine Poem.

In 1905, Scriabin discovered the theosophical teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, which became the intellectual foundation of his musical and philosophical efforts. In true Romantic tradition, he sought to situate his work as a composer in the wider spiritual and intellectual context of his age. Previously influenced by Nietzsche's ideas about the advent of a superhuman being, Scriabin embraced theosophy as an intellectual framework for his profound feelings about humankind's quest for God. Works from this period, exemplified by the Poem of Ecstasy (1908) and Prometheus (1910), reflect Scriabin's conception of music as a bridge to mystical ecstasy. While the ideas underlying his works may seem far-fetched, Scriabin's musical language included some fascinating, and very tangible, innovations, such as chords based on fourths and unexpected chromatic effects. Lacking an inner forward-moving force, Scriabin's later works nevertheless fascinate the listener by harmonic transformations which aim to reflect certain undefinable aspects of human consciousness. In addition, the composer, who strongly believed in the synaesthetic nature of art, experimented with sounds and colors, indicating, for example, lighting specification for the performance of particular works. Indeed, Scriabin's interest in color was hardly academic, considering that , as an orchestrator, he exploited the full potential of orchestral color. While Scriabin never quite crossed the threshold to atonality, his music nevertheless replaced the traditional concept of tonality by an intricate system of chords, some of which (e.g., the "mystic chord": C-F sharp-B flat-E-A-D) had an esoteric meaning. Scriabin's gradual move into realms beyond traditional tonality can be clearly heard in his ten piano sonatas; the last five, composed during 1912-1913, are without key signatures and certainly contain atonal moments. In 1915, Scriabin died in of septicemia caused by a carbuncle on his lip. Among his unfinished project was Mysterium, a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world.