Scriabin, Alexander Nikolayevich (1872-1915) was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. He was a composer-philosopher who "like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights"(Grieg).
The turn of the 20th century in Russia was marked by an active political life, economic achievements (in 1913, Russia had the most advanced economy in the world) and the Silver Age in arts.
The huge evolution conceived during 43 years of Scriabin's life brought him close to the discovery of dodecaphony. The addition of a couple of years to his life would have made Moscow the birthplace of the 12-tone technique.
Scriabin's contribution to the Theosophical Society is more considerable than any made by other composers. His works and particularly the poetry created for his own compositions bore the impact of two famous theosophists of that time - Helen Blavatskaya and Rudolf Steiner. The poetry of Steiner and Scriabin is incredibly similar. You may see it in the "Hymn to the Arts" written by Scriabin for the Finale of his First Symphony.
Scriabin was versatile and absorbed major zeitgeists of his time - romanticism, atonality and symbolism. He was preoccupied with theosophy, the synthesis of arts, and the theory of colours, smells and touches. It is common to read that Scriabin was always rushing forwards. In fact many of his ideas, for example, the realization of the abstract ideas of darkness, evil, divinity and ecstasy in music, refer us directly to ancient Greek art and to the aesthetics of his teacher Taneyev. Instead of the adaptation of local folk tunes Taneyev appealed to ancient Greek mythology and the medieval style of counterpoint.
Scriabin shared the beliefs of the group of Russian painters known as the "World of Art". He was convinced that art eventually will prevail and change the human race forever.
Scriabin's Symphony #1 (1900, Op. 26) opened the new era of Russian symphonism. It is difficult to realize that this work was composed in 1900. The musical language of the Symphony is far advanced for his time.
The premiere took place in St. Petersburg, under the baton of Lyadov, and it was a failure.
Even today most Western critics underestimate Scriabin's First Symphony.
However the following facts speak for themselves: over a hundred years after it was written, we still listen to this composition, enjoying the freshness of musical ideas, brilliant orchestration and counterpoint. We recognize the individual stylistic features, which reveal to us the new phenomenon in the Russian music known today as Scriabin. Rough beginnings and under-appreciation by the majority of contemporaries are not rare. A lack of sensitivity and narrow minds keep many people from accepting that a genius might live next door, or across the street. Long-term experience allows me to conclude that one minute of music is enough to evaluate a composer. Unfortunately, for many of us a lifetime is not enough.
Instead of the four movements of the classical symphonic cycle, the First Symphony by Scriabin consists of six parts, which include the Introduction (Part I) and Epilogue (Part VI).
Scriabin set his own poem on music in the last, Sixth movement. This is the "Hymn to the Art". The idea of adding a choir to the last movement of a symphony was not new. The same can be noticed in the Ninth Symphony by Beethoven and several other symphonies. The polyphonic development reminds us of choral compositions by Taneyev.
Another composition recorded on this album is "Poem of Ecstasy", 1907, Op.54. It is also known as Symphony #4. Though there are only 7 years between his First and the Fourth Symphonies, the difference is impressive. The symphonic idea this time was embodied in one dynamic movement. "Poem of Ecstasy" displays Scriabin's style in full. This composition makes such a powerful impact on an audience that no conductor would place "Poem of Ecstasy" in the beginning or in the middle of his program. The work was composed during Scriabin's active involvement in the Theosophical Society.
Throughout his life, Scriabin made major, revolutionary discoveries and established new branches of art and science. For example, Scriabin did scientific research on the healing, spiritual impact of music. Today this is a young, rapidly growing industry called "music therapy". His accomplishments can only be defined as genius. Becoming more and more eccentric and contradictory, Scriabin became neglected by Western society, which only recently took fresh interest in his heritage.
The boundless ambition of Scriabin was revealed in his last composition - "Mysterium". A performance of this work would have lasted seven days. It was conceived to be staged in the foothills of the Himalayas, in India. The world was to be transformed and dissolved into bliss by the end of the performance. This mega-work would contain words, music, dance, perfumes and sensations of touch and smell. This doomsday plot, in which all characters were to be in the present, including Scriabin as Jesus Christ, never happened. Only 72 pages of the introduction to "Mysterium" were composed.
Though Scriabin was born on Christmas and considered himself a god, he died a simple man, within hours, of common blood poisoning. It was on Eastertide, April 14, 1915, according to the Western calendar.
Evgeni Svetlanov (1928-2002) was born in Moscow. He studied piano with Maria Gurvich, composition with Mikhail Gnessin and Yuri Shaporin and conducting with Gauk.
After graduating from the Gnessin Institute and Moscow Conservatory he joined the staff of the Bolshoi as a principal conductor (1963-1965).
In 1965 he became a leader of the USSR Symphony orchestra and was in this position till 2000.
In 1979 Svetlanov received the appointment as principal guest conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra and the last concert in his life was given in London in 2002. Svetlanov received numerous honors and awards: 1968 - People's Artist of the USSR; 1977 - the Order of Lenin; 1983 - Soviet State Prize for Creative Achievements; 1998 - Order for Meritorious Services to the Nation. He also was awarded the Paris Grand Prix for his recording of the complete symphonies by Tchaikovsky. Svetlanov's work at the position of principal conductor of the USSR Symphony Orchestra from 1965 till 2000 resulted in the performance and recording of almost the entire Russian symphonic repertoire.
©2003 Evgeni Kostitsyn
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)
Symphony No.1, Op.26
1. I. Lento - 7:53
2. II. Allegro dramatico - 8:12
3. III. Lento - 9:35
4. IV. Vivace - 3:16
5. V. Allegro - 6:56
6. VI. Andante - 14:42
Total time: 71:20
© 1991 Gramzapis
Larissa Avdeyeva, mezzo-soprano
Symphony No.1 was recorded by Veprintsev in 1963
Cover painting "Kiss" by Gustav Klimt