Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (Skriabin, Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Скря́би)

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Born: 6 January 1872 — Moscow — Russia
Died: 27 April 1915 — Moscow — Russia
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Portrait of Scriabin by Paul Helm
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[by “admin” on 2010-09-14 05:15:16]


Orchestral music

  • Piano Concerto, Opus 20
  • Reveries, Opus 24
  • Symphony No. 1, Opus 26
  • Symphony No. 2, Opus 29
  • Symphony No. 3, Opus 43 (Divine Poem)
  • Symphony No. 4, Opus 54 (Poem of Ecstasy)
  • Symphony No. 4, Opus 54 (arranged 2 Pianos)
  • Symphony No. 5, Opus 60 (Prometheus, Poem of Fire)
  • Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
  • Mysterium - (Prefatory Act)
  • Symphonic Poem D Minor


Alexander Scriabin (Aleksandr Skriabin) was born 25 December 1871 in Moscow. His mother died when he was two, and he was then raised by a grandmother and his Aunt Liubov. He began formal study of the piano at 12 with Georgy Conus. In 1884–85 he studied piano with Nikolai Zverev, at whose house a small group of piano pupils boarded, including 11-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff.

He entered the Moscow Conservatory at 17, studying piano with Vasily Sofonov. He learned theory with Sergei Taneyev, and was in Anton Arensky’s composition class where classmate and friend Rachmaninoff was Arensky’s star pupil. Ironically, Arensky once threatened to flunk Scriabin who was musically somewhat too adventurous for his teacher.

In 1892, Scriabin sought to graduate a year early like Rachmaninoff but was refused by Arensky, whereupon, enraged, Scriabin quit and set out on a career as a concert pianist and recitalist. In 1897 he married pianist Vera Ivanovna Isakovich, The following year, Moscow Conservatory piano professor Paul Schloezer died, and Scriabin took his place. By 1902, the Scriabins had three daughters (Rimma, Elena, and Maria) and one son (Lev).

During this time, he became interested in Goethe and Nietzsche. Then, in 1903, he left his post at the Moscow Conservatory. At the same time, he began an extramarital love affair with Schloezer’s niece, the seductively attractive Tatyana Fyodorovna.

The first significant phase of his artistic career (1891–1902, comprising opus nos. 4–28) is marked by sets of piano works in smaller forms (preludes, mazurkas, études, etc.), modelled on the styles of Chopin and Liszt. In these works, however, Scriabin goes beyond his models, bringing an extra richness, delicacy, and clarity to the idiom of his early romantic predecessors. The enthusiasm and intensity in some of Scriabin’s mazurkas, for example, make them seem at times more brilliantly “Chopinesque” than Chopin himself! The Second and Third Sonatas give further witness to the fresh vitality Scriabin will bring to this form.

In the early years of the century, Scriabin devoted much of his effort to symphonic writing, and it was through this that he first achieved a major metamophosis in personal idiom, strongly coloured with Wagerian harmony. Scriabin produced his first and second symphonies, and his Divine Poem, or Third Symphony, during this time. His robust and passionate Fourth Piano Sonata is a good example of this transitional period, especially in contrast with both the Third and Fifth sonatas.

From 1904 to 1908, Scriabin lived abroad. In 1904 he went to a philosophy conference in Geneva, and heard Wagner’s Die Walküre in Paris. In 1906 a daughter Ariadna was born — his first child by Tatiana. During the 1906-07 season, he made his American debut with his own Piano Concerto, but his tour was abruptly curtailed when its sponsors feared public impact were it discovered that he was still married to a woman other than the one he was with. In Brussels, he frequented theosophical circles, both satisfying and feeding his impulse for spiritual and philosophical realms. At this time, he composed both his striking Fifth Sonata and his orchestral Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54. His compositions, whose harmonic language was now marked by a more elaborate chromaticism, were increasingly given titles of a symbolist bent (eg., Poème ailé, Poème languide).

In 1908, a second child, a son, Julian, was born to Scriabin and Tatiana Fyodorovna. With the completion of his last symphonic work (The Poem of Fire: Prometheus), Scriabin completely broke through all tonal constraints and devised a harmonic style based on superimposition of diminished and augmented fourths — though it is also much more than this. [Note: All this is best understood through direct listening than through any amount of technical descriptive terminology.]

The five last years of his life were devoted solely to the piano. These compositions include Sonatas 6 through 10, sets of smaller-scale pieces, and especially Vers la Flamme. His seventh and last child, Marina, was born, and his father and his son, Lev, also died. At the same time, he was an active performing artist. With Serge Koussevitzky and the Imperial Bolshoi Orchestra, he went as piano soloist on a Volga steamboat tour. He also made numerous acclaimed appearances as a solo recitalist in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and London. In this final period, Scriabin abandons even the need for any form of rhythmic beat, instead superimposing different time-values, through a layering of harmonic and thematic material, and making use of acoustic effects like trills and tremolos.

He died rather abruptedly in Moscow on 14 April 1915 after developing septicemia — consequence of an initially small untreated infection he developed on his lip beneath his rich ‘trademark’ moustache. His death came as a great shock to many. Rachmaninoff, one of his deep admirers, shortly thereafter changed to all-Scriabin programs in his recitals for a time, as if to awaken and remind the musical world of the true nature and extent of its premature loss.

Scriabin’s pianistic technique exhibits a propensity for broad appegiated intervals, octaves and chords, demanding swift and often difficult jumps. He was a sort of musical representative of Symbolism, immersed in hazy mystical ideologies derived from Eastern philosophical and religious sources. Scriabin sought to stretch music to its limits of sonorous density and expression, toward creating an atmosphere of spiritual and esthetic ecstasy. He eventually envisioned the ideal musical experience as a multi-sensory “synaesthetic” event, which would also incorporate a visual dimension in the form of a light-and-color display — an idea 60 or 70 years ahead of its time with regard to the requisite technology and audience receptivity.

While Scriabin certainly stands in stark contrast to his nationalist Russian contemporaries, his “feet” rest solidly in tradition while his “hands” reach toward a future yet unknown in his time. In Donald Garvelmann’s words:

Scriabin’s music embraces the past and the future, formality and freedom. Its large range of expression — anger, fear, heroism, darkness, mystery, evil, light, fire, flight, intoxication, languor, love, six, ecstasy — is the very connective tissue of his life and thought. His remarkable harmonic scheme is like a burgeoning new language but with few cognates. His works are experiences of an inexhaustible range of color, from the most delicate nuance to rich multi-voiced textures, and of (his favorite word) “sensations.”

Copyright © 1998 Ned Rees <druid(at)>. Acknowledgements to Daniel Kim for correction of facts. Reuse or re-publication in any form, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author. Used by the Classical Composers Database with permission of the author.

Alexander Nikolayevich Skriabin, the noted Russian composer, was born on Christmas Day and died at Eastertide — according to Western-style calendrical reckoning, 7 January 1872 – 14 April, 1915. No one was more famous during his lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after his death. Although he was never absent from the mainstream of Russian music, the outside world neglected him until recently. Today, there is worldwide resurgence of interest in his music and ideas.

Skriabin wrote five symphonies, including the Divine Poem (1903), the Poem of Ecstasy (1907), and the Poem of Fire or Prometheus (1909). His ten piano sonatas are staples of many pianists’ repertoire, with the Fifth being perhaps the most popular, while the Seventh (White Mass) and Ninth (Black Mass) follow close. Vladimir Horowitz in his late sixties began playing the Tenth, and it remains today in vogue among more daring virtuosi. Skriabin’s style, like Beethoven and Schönberg and unlike Mozart or Brahms, changed enormously as he progressed. The early pieces are romantic, fresh and easily accessible, while his later compositions explore harmony’s further reaches. It is thought by scholars, that had Skriabin lived beyond his brief 43 years, he would have preceded the Austrian school of duodecaphony, and Moscow would have become the center of atonality.

Immediately upon Skriabin’s sudden death, Sergei Rachmaninoff toured Russia in a series of all-Skriabin recitals. It was the first time he played music other than his own in public. In those days Skriabin was known as a pianist and Rachmaninoff was considered only as a composer. Skriabin, thus, was posthumously responsible for his friend and classmate’s later pianistic career in Europe and America.

Skriabin’s thought processes were immensely complicated, even tinged with solipsism. "I am God," he once wrote in one of his secret philosophical journals. He embraced Helen Blavatsky’s Theosophy. In London he visited the room in which Mme. Blavatsky died. Skriabin considered his last music to be fragments of an immense piece to be called Mysterium. This seven-day-long megawork would be performed at the foothills of the Himalayas in India, after which the world would dissolve in bliss. Bells suspended from clouds would summon spectators. Sunrises would be preludes and sunsets codas. Flames would erupt in shafts of light and sheets of fire. Perfumes appropriate to the music would change and pervade the air. At the time of his death, Skriabin left 72 orchestral-size pages of sketches for a preliminary work Prefatory Action, intended to "prepare" the world for the apocalyptic ultimate masterpiece. Alexander Nemtin, the Russian composer, assembled those jottings and co-created the Prefatory Action. Its three vast movements have been performed with great acclaim under conductors Cyril Kondrashin in Moscow and Vladimir Ashkenazy in Berlin with Alexei Lubimov at the piano.

(Contributed by Charles Berry <chuck_berry(at)>)


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11 October 1897: Premiere of piano concerto in f sharp minor op. 20, in Odessa, Ukraine.
10 December 1908: Premiere of the Poème de l'Ecstase op. 54, in New York, USA.
2 March 1911: Premiere of Le Poème du Feu “Prométhée” op. 60, in Moscow, Russia.

Contributions by: druid | dwright |

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Dying days:
(1627) Heinrich Schütz: Premiere of Dafne, in Torgau, Germany.
(1909) Milii Balakirev: Premiere of Symphony no. 2 in d minor, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
(1948) André Jolivet: Premiere of the Concerto for Ondes Martenot and Orchestra, in Vienna, Austria.
(1953) Olivier Messiaen: Premiere of Livre d'Orgue, Stuttgart, Germany, with Messiaen at the organ.
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Picture of Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin|Skriabin|Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Скря́би.
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Sheet music for Scriabin

[details ←] Sonata-Fantasy, piano,
[details ←] Nocturnes (2), piano,
[details ←] Fantasy, piano,
[details ←] Impromptus a la Mazur (2), piano,
[details ←] Waltz, piano,
[details ←] Piano Concerto, piano, percussion,
[details ←] Two Poems (Duex Poemes), piano,
[details ←] Symphony No.3 (Le divin poeme), percussion, harp,
[details ←] Symphony No.2, percussion,
[details ←] Piano Concerto, piano,
[details ←] Poeme satanique, piano,
[details ←] Piano Sonata No.4, piano,
[details ←] Piano Sonata No.3, piano,
[details ←] Sonata-Fantasy No.2, piano,
[details ←] Preludes (7), piano,
[details ←] Preludes (24), piano,
[details ←] Prelude and Nocturne (for the left hand), piano,
[details ←] Etudes (12), piano,
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