Alexander Scriabin

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I have been rereading David Lindsay’s odd and fascinating novel “A Voyage to Arcturus” lately. There’s a wonderful line in the first chapter, describing a society lady sitting slumped at the piano: “She had been playing Scriabin, and was overcome.”

 

 

I have Scriabin playing in the background right now as I write this. I wouldn’t describe myself as “overcome,” but I’m enjoying it.

 

 

Alexander Scriabin was a Russian composer at the turn of the last century. He started as a Chopinesque romantic, but gradually became more and more experimental. His music is visionary and free-form; it’s not atonal, but it has a harmonic vocabulary of its own. Scriabin gave his symphonies titles like “The Poem of Ecstasy” and “Prometheus: A Poem of Fire.” Two of his piano sonatas are “The White Mass” and “The Black Mass.” (How can you not love a fin-de-siecle composer who thinks the height of wickedness and fashion is a Black Mass?)


 

The piano music sighs up and down the keyboard in long almost-tonal arpeggios. Almost-melodies come and go. Bizarre insect-like trills interrupt the proceedings. The symphonic music is very heady: dark and rich like chocolate cake. Scriabin wanted fragrances pumped into the air supply of the concert hall, and colored lights, so that all of the senses would be involved. He wanted everything at once.


 

Wow! Overload!


 

Scriabin died in 1915 of an infection, supposedly from having cut himself while shaving.


 

The following is the second and final movement of Scriabin’s fourth piano sonata. He wrote a poem to go with it: about a faint blue star which, when approached, becomes a gigantic sun, a “sun of triumph!”, which is engulfed by the one who loves it.

 

 

If you listen to it: don’t let it overcome you.


 

Or – what the hell! Why not?


 

 

06_Sonata_no._4_Prestissimo_volando.wma Listen on Posterous

 


 

 

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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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