I wanted to ﬁnd a word that illustrates Scriabin. I looked up 'singular' on Thesaurus and found many relating words: unparalleled, unprecedented, exceptional, avant-garde and eccentric. Loner came up, too. Mystique surrounds his name. His artistry is measured by integrity, imagination and by a search and wish to make music a necessary part of a great philosophy which links all thought, creativity and beauty together, and which would eventually see the birth of a new world.
Leo Tolstoy describes him as 'a sincere expression of genius'.
Scriabin's early works belong to Chopin's and Tchaikovsky's 19th century, and with the ﬁfth piano sonata from 1907 he is looking across the 20th. But he lived to be 43, and while his European counter-part Arnold Schönberg would explore new harmonic systems and composition techniques for another forty years, Scriabin's experimentation with theosophy, mysticism, symbolism, synesthesia, fragrances and colour codes were left unﬁnished. I toy with the idea - often - how music, and perhaps musicians, would have developed had Scriabin lived longer and if someone like Charles Ives had continued writing. Their music would have created an aggressive, at the same time healthy, challenge to the 12-tone technique.
The poems op.32 were written in 1903. The ﬁrst poem remained one of Scriabin's favourite compositions and would appear in most of his piano recitals. The great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky transcribed it for cello and piano a couple of decades later. I owned a copy of the music from age 15 or so, but when I eventually decided to learn it, I was vexed by the changes Piatigorsky had made to the original score.These include the simpliﬁcation of rhythms, dynamics and anything eccentric and typical of Scriabin. During the process of making my own version, I soon realised that the middle section did not beneﬁt from being broken up into separate lines. While the piano part remains untouched, I have borrowed material from the second poem to ﬁll what might otherwise feel like gaps in the cello part (this version can be heard together with pianist Bengt Forsberg on the CD called Smörgåsbord for the Hyperion label). Interestingly, the story around the tempestuous second poem had originally been conceived as an aria for a planned opera. As with Brahms and the opening of the E minor sonata op.38, Scriabin uses the word legato rather than indicating this with slurs (see piano part).
I just thought of another illustrating word: fascinating.