Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Alexander Scriabin

Given the general outlook of the late nineteenth century Russian musical world into which Alexander Scriabin was born, and especially the pianistic outlook inherited from the legendary Anton Rubinstein, it is not surprising that in Scriabin's very first compositions the influence of Chopin and Liszt seems more powerful than the composer's own voice. Even the first few piano sonatas, though of far greater individuality than his youthful works, still inhabit the harmonic and thematic world created by the two earlier composers. By the time of the Fourth Sonata in 1903, however, Scriabin was rapidly moving towards the eventual atonal revolution that he would, completely independently from Arnold Schoenberg or any other composer, carry out on his music in the years before World War I. Four years later, the Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53, by eschewing any traditional constraints of a central tonal area (the work is often described as being in F sharp minor, but this is not really the case, at least not without redefining what is meant by such a specific term -- one must not be misled by key signatures, which are there for the performer's benefit) and by pouring all the music into a single unique movement, takes a vital step in the direction of this personal upheaval. The Fifth Sonata, one of the most frequently played of the composer's works, owes a great deal to the orchestral Poem of Ecstasy, and for this reason the Sonata is occasionally given that same title. Both draw on a poem by written by Scriabin, of which four lines are affixed to the beginning of the Sonata (a passage which "calls to life" the artist's "hidden longings," an example of the composer's ever-increasing obsession with his own creative powers), and, while vastly different compositions, both represent the same feverish, concentrated musical world. A deep rumbling from the very bowels of the instrument "calls to life" this restless, 12-minute excursion into the most colorful of passionate realms. Delicate, evaporative harmonies built largely of fourths (rather than the more traditional thirds) ensue, wandering about apparently aimlessly but actually working their way to a heated but not violent outburst that does, for a time, seem to be pointing towards an F sharp tonal area. But B major is just as important to the work as its myriad episodes unfold, and the strongest cadential area (implied or otherwise) is the sustained pressure on E flat during the final portion of the piece. Just as we feel a final, well-earned resolution coming, however, Scriabin thrusts his virtuoso fieldwork up into the stratosphere, where it vanishes without a trace.