Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
SCRIABIN, THE MYSTIC IMPRESSIONIST, AND SIBELIUS, A MODERN SYMPHONIST

THE musical prophet of the Russan symbolists was Alexander Scriabin ( 1871- 1915), as Debussy was of the French. Scriabin the occultist,--a Theosophist, was the motive power of Scriabin, the composer. He attempted an esoteric correlation of life and art, in which he conceived art as transforming life into joy.

Scriabin's music divides itself into three definite periods. First came the piano compositions of a poetic, refined, "salon" type in which the hand of Chopin is distinctly visible, even in the Russian's use of the Pole titles--Préludes, Mazurkas, Études, etc. But in this imitative period, a striking personality was emerging in which many of the characteristics of the later Scriabin were in evidence. During this time he wrote four of his ten Sonatas for piano, the Poème Tragödie and Poème Satanique, his first two Symphonies and the F sharp minor Piano Concerto.

In the second transitional period he wrote the Divine Poem (op. 43). According to Alfred J. Swan ( Music, 1900 to 1930) the theme of the finale brought forth the statement from Scriabin: "For the first time I found Light in music, found this rapture, this soaring flight, this suffocation from joy. . . .""But already before," Dr. Swan continues, "in the final pages of the Fourth Sonata, the Poème, op. 32, No. 2, the Preludes op. 37, No. 2, and op. 39, No. 1, he has found glaring, radiant light, such as had never been couched in sounds before . . . but in Scriabin it is of a dazzling white color."

The compositions of this period include those from op. 43, the Divine Poem, to the Fifth Sonata, op. 53. In 1903, freed from an irksome teaching position at the Moscow Conservatory, his spirit found expression in forty works for piano and some for orchestra. He was always more at home in the idiom of his own

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