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Alexander Skryabin. Photograph inscribed to Pedro Tillett during the composer’s London visit, 1914.

Alexander SKRYABIN (1851-1915)

April 2015

SKRYABIN [Scriabin], Aleksandr Nikolayevich (b.Moscow, 25 Dec 1871; d.Moscow, 14 April 1915)

Skryabin who died 100 years ago this month studied the piano and composition at the Moscow Conservatory.  At first he made a living as a concert pianist but then devoted himself more and more to composition.  Unlike the majority of other Russian composers of his age, he composed virtually nothing for the voice, confining himself to works for the piano (influenced by Chopin) and for the orchestra (influenced by Wagner).

Between 1896 and 1906 dealings with publishers (including the wealthy Mitrofan Beliaev) became difficult and money was a problem.

He had always been obsessed with mysticism and philosophy, and he developed and expressed complex ideas as to the meaning of his musical works. He was also involved in synaesthesia (the perceived relationship between colours and key signatures).  All this made him a figure that was very much in keeping with his times, the early years of the twentieth century, the years immediately preceding the Revolution when the mood felt by many was that apocalyptic change was in the air.

The concert in St Petersburg conducted by Felix Blumenfeld of 1909, premiering the Poem of Ecstasy gave Skryabin the critical acclaim he sought, and he continued to work on another major orchestral piece Prometheus which was given its first performance with Skryabin at the piano, though without the tastiera per luce, a keyboard operating a circle of shifting, different coloured lights.

In later years he toured extensively in Europe and spent three weeks in London in the spring of 1914.  He studied Sanskrit to construct a new language for a major multi-media work the Mysterium, jotting down sketches for the music with different coloured pencils – black, red, blue, violet.  Sir Henry Wood conducted this music and he also gave two recitals.  Unfortunately during his time in London, he developed a blister on his upper lip, which became infected when he returned to Moscow, and as a result he died there in April 1914.

Edward Morgan