20th Century

117. Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin [365 Composers for 2013]

27th April – Alexander Scriabin

Scriabin (6th January 1872 – 27th April 1915) is our composer for 27th April, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: Russian
Lifespan: 43 years
Genre: 20th Century
Education: Moscow Conservatory
Fame Ranking: 3

Scriabin was an innovative composer who developed his own idiosyncratic harmonic style. His mother had been a concert pianist, but sadly she died when Scriabin was only one year old. His father was absent due to his professional responsibilities as a diplomat in Turkey, so the young Scriabin was raised by a gaggle of female relatives, of which his aunt was an amateur pianist. Scriabin was fascinated with the piano from an early age, and even set about constructing homemade pianos as a youthful hobby.

Scriabin took piano lessons with Nicolai Zverev, who was also teaching the young Rachmaninov at the same time. He then entered the Moscow Conservatory. While practising a particularly fiendish Liszt piece, Scriabin damaged his hand, and was told that he might not ever fully recover, so he threw himself into composing instead. His hand recovered, and he began his career as a pianist by performing his own works.

Scriabin’s early works use the tonal language familiar to our ears from the Classical and Romantic eras, but he quickly began to experiment with enhancing the traditional harmonies to produce something unique. He based many compositions on chord sequences that contain several dissonant notes, while still being mostly within the major/minor system. He was also fascinated by mysticism, and synesthesia in music, which is associating certain colours with specific keys. For example, D (major or minor) to him was a golden colour. He was planning a monumental work which was to last a week and be performed in the Himalayas, which would bring together all art forms, music, colour and which he hoped would “herald the birth of a new world”. Sadly, he contracted septicemia aged just 43 and died before this enormous work was finished. There is an asteroid named after him.

Here is Scriabin’s Piano Etude Opus 42 no.5:

 

 

Listen to more works by Scriabin – click the box!