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Alexander Scriabin

Updated on December 1, 2016

Aleksandr Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872-1915) was a Russian composer. He was born in Moscow on Jan. 6, 1872. After musical studies in Moscow, he went on a European tour in 1895-1896, playing mostly his own Chopinesque piano pieces. His fame as a composer grew gradually. From 1898 to 1903 he taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Then, given financial assistance by a wealthy patron, he settled in Switzerland, where he composed the orchestral work The Divine Poem, first played in Paris in 1905.

He toured the United States as soloist, playing his own compositions, in 1906-1907. In 1908 his Poem of Ecstasy was given its premiere in New York City by the Russian Symphony Orchestra, under Modest Altschuler. In 1910, Serge Kous-sevitzky hired ScriaLin as piano soloist for a musical tour by boat down the Volga River. It was for Koussevitzky that he wrote Prometheus, also known as The Poem of Fire, an astonishing work for orchestra, piano, and color organ. Scriabin played the piano part at its first performance (without the color organ), in Moscow, in 1911, under Koussevitzky. Altschuler gave it with color organ at Carnegie Hall, New York City, in 1915. Scriabin was heard in public for the last time, in Petrograd, on April 15, 1915. He died in Moscow on April 27, 1915.

Of Scriabin's many compositions, mostly for orchestra and for piano, only the Poem of Ecstasy, Prometheus, and a few short pieces are now played with any frequency. However, his practices and his theories had some influence on later composers. He experimented restlessly with new harmonies, especially of chromatic texture, and with a "mystic chord" (C, F#, Bb, E, A, D) built up in fourths, which he based on a highly personal interpretation of theosophical doctrines. A strange, unhappy man, Scriabin intended his largest works as artistic syntheses with religious significance, but he lacked the constructive ability to evolve musical forms of enough solidity to achieve his ambitions.

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