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Past Exhibition of the Month - April 2015

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

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

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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

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Early edition of some of Skryabin’s first published works. Moscow, [c.1894]. Op.1, Op.2 (No.1), Op.3 & Op.5 appeared originally in 1892 without opus numbers. Series wrapper for Skryabin's piano works on sale in London, 1913. Cover design by I. Bilibin. First edition of Skryabin's Piano Concerto, Op.20. Leipzig, 1898.

Le Divin Poème, Op.43. Full score. Leipzig, 1905.

5me Sonate pour Piano, Op.53. Berlin, etc. [1908].  Both the sonata and the orchestral work are a musical response to Skryabin's poem, an extract from which is printed at the head of the music.  The work was first performed by Mark Meichik in Moscow on 18 November 1908. Le Poème de l'Extase, Op.54.  Full score. Leipzig, 1908.

Programme of the Second Russian Symphonic Concert in the series Russian Symphonic Concerts and Quartet Evenings (founded by M. P. Beliaev) in the Large Hall of the St Petersburg Conservatoire, 31 January 1909.  Felix Blumenfeld conducted the Orchestra of the Imperial Russian Opera in the first performance in Russia of Skryabin's Poem of Ecstasy and works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Vitols and Vyshnegradsky.  The world premiere had taken place in New York on 10 December 1908, conducted by Modest Altschuler.  Skryabin himself played a group of piano solos including the Fifth Sonata.  The programme cover is by I. Bilibin. Edward Morgan Collection, London.

Prométhée: le Poème du Feu,  Op.60. Berlin, Moscow & St Petersburg, [1910].  After a performance of the work conducted by Sir Henry Wood in London in 1913, Rosa Newmarch wrote to Skryabin: The orchestra was full of enthusiasm. The impression was terrific, the applause warm and enthusiastic. Wood had to come out and take a bow three times (a thing unprecedented for a premiere). It may be of interest to you that among the people who listened to both performances I noticed Mr. Bernard Shaw, who was one of the greatest enthusiasts and applauded loudly, and also John Sargent, an artist, who cried out: "We want to listen to ‘Prometheus’ for a third time!" ... You have managed to express something new, ideal, deeply moving. I also believe you have made enthusiastic friends here. 7me Sonate pour Piano, Op.64. Berlin, Moscow & St Petersburg, 1913.  Wrapper designed by I. Bilibin. Sonate No.9 pour Piano, Op.68. Moscow & Leipzig, [1913].

A Skryabin. Postcard photograph. A Skryabin. Postcard photograph. A Skryabin. Postcard photograph.

Romance. Posthumous edition of Skryabin's only song, the manuscript of which was given by the composer to the singer Nina Koshets. Paris, [1927].