Scriabin

SUNDAY, December 22, 2019

(Which of the two recordings below do you prefer?)

Performers disagree hugely about tempos…

Here is a fairly short prelude by Scriabin, Op. 11, No. 2. played by two Russians, both famous for interpreting Russian music. Who is correct? Neither. Who is wrong? Neither. In fact, Scriabin did write a metronome marking, but most performers take such markings with a huge grain of salt.

Sviatoslav Richter…

Richter was legendary for his power and strength, but he also played thoughtful music in a very sensitive manner and was renowned for his contrasts. His tempo is the second slowest I found in all recordings, and he actually plays part of it slower than anyone else because the middle section is faster.

Vladimir Sofronitsky…

Sofronitsky is also legendary among pianists, but he lived in the Soviet Union during it’s most repressive period. He outlived Stalin by only 8 years, dying in 1961. So this recording does not have the more expansive sound of more modern recordings and would sound much better if done today; try to ignore the more primitive recorded sound. I tried to set the recording here to the second prelude, but something about the programming of this site tends to move the starting point. It should be set at 45 seconds. For the record, Sofronitsky is much closer to Scriabin’s indicated tempo, which is like a very free waltz. Sofronitsky married Scriabin’s oldest daughter, so we might assume he had some inside information as to the style of the composer.

Now, about Scriabin…

He lived from Jan. 6th, 1872 to Apr. 27th, 1915, and because he was only one year older than Rachmaninov, the two men were students ending up at the Moscow Conservatory at about the same time and knew each other well. They also studied under the same piano teacher earlier, Nikolai Zverev.

Born on Christmas…

Under the Julian calendar still in use at that time Scriabin, was born on the 25th of December, and he may have grown up thinking himself as born on that day.

The Russian Chopin…

Scriabin was influenced early in his life by the works of Chopin, and his early music in fact is very similar, but darker. He was by no means ever a copy of Chopin, but the similarity is obvious. Later in his career, Scriabin developed a more dissonant musical style that no longer sounded the least bit like Chopin.

He went from very famous to totally out of favor…

Scriabin was one of the most innovative and most controversial of early modern composers. He had a major impact on the music world during his life and influenced composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev and others. But his fame faded drastically after his death, at least partially because of the terribly repressive Soviet regime. His music eventually became more famous again.

He was raised by women…

His mother, who was was a concert pianist, died when he was only a year old. Then his father left, and he was raised by grandmother, great aunt, and aunt. Scriabin as very shy, small and short. He was so weak that he was exempt from exercise while at school and was given time each day to practice at the piano. He was essentially a very talented but lonely boy.

He was a very unusual kid…

Scriabin began building pianos after being fascinated with piano mechanisms. He sometimes gave away pianos he had built to house guests. He also performed his own amateur plays and operas with puppets.

He is another pianist who almost ruined his hands…

He damaged his right hand while practicing Franz Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan and Mily Balakirev’s Islamey. His doctor said he would never recover, but he eventually regained the use of his hand. Part of his strain may have come from his extremely small hands. I could barely reach more than an octave, which is very surprising because his music is written for very large hands.

He never got certified in composition…

In 1892 he graduated with the Little Gold Medal in piano performance, but because of strong differences in personality and musical opinion between him and a professor, Anton Arensky, he did not get a graduate certificate in composition because of the lack of a signature from Arensky. He was unwilling to compose pieces in forms that did not interest him.

But he soon had his music published…

In 1894 Scriabin’s works were published by a publishing company that also published the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov. The lack of a piece of paper did not hurt him.

Arensky died, and he became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, and got married…

In August 1897, Scriabin toured in Russia and abroad, culminating in a successful 1898 concert in Paris. That year he became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, and began to establish his reputation as a composer. From that time until his death he was famous and wel- known.

Rachmaninov supported him…

Scriabin’s died quite suddenly and unexpectedly from an infection known as sepsis which quite possibly could have been cured with antibiotics if caught in time, but in those days people died from all sorts of minor medical problems that today are easily taken care of.

Rachmaninoff toured Russia in a series of all-Scriabin recitals to promote his music. In other words, he supported Scriabin as a fellow composer, and it is interesting to note that at that time Rachmaninov apparently only performed his own music up until this tour. Scriabin, by the way, thought Rachmaninov’s playing of his music was “earthbound”, meaning that someone it was lacking. It is ironic that he did not fully appreciate the man or his incredibly pianistic talent, since most people would prefer Rachmaninov’s playing by far.

2 thoughts on “Scriabin

  1. I preferred the faster tempo of Sofronitsky’s version.

    I feel that musicians should be judged on their talent, not on a piece of paper they do or do not possess.

  2. I think I have to first get used to Scriabin’s music. The different tempo choices is interesting. Rachmaninoff – if that is “earthbound”, maybe a person has to bounce hard into the ground in order to soar – to me it had life.

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