Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 October 2022
Scriabin as Pianist
Several contemporaries of Scriabin have left us their accounts of his playing, but the most vivid and informative of these is Leonid Sabaneev's memoir. In close contact with Scriabin over a period of five years, Sabaneev recorded his impressions of the composer in detail and even reproduced conversations at length. The memoir displays the deep admiration needed to motivate such an enterprise, but the author was also capable of standing back to take a cooler critical view, yielding a source that is both rich and persuasive. Scriabin enchants him almost against his will, and Sabaneev often exposes the tension between the pianist as heard by his coterie and the pianist as he actually played.
Sabaneev first heard Scriabin play at his famous concert of 21 February 1909 at the Moscow Conservatoire Grand Hall. Scriabin performed his Fifth Sonata between two huge symphonic works, his Third Symphony (The Divine Poem) and his Poem of Ecstasy. The size of the hall and the contrast with the powerful orchestral sound worked against the pianist: his ‘nervously-refined’ tone failed to carry or communicate. The sonata ‘caused only perplexity’, and the audience was uncertain whether the piece had ended or if the performer was overcome by some unknown problem. This is corroborated Anatoly Drozdov's memoir, where the performance was ‘confused and unconvincing’.
Sabaneev also gives us his first impressions of Scriabin playing in a private setting, which is again a mixture of enthusiasm and critical detachment. At first, he was sceptical: Scriabin's eyes, he tells us, were half-closed, and he seemed to be directing his gaze at some distant space. Sabaneev could not help but think that this was just a sentimental, effeminate pose. The music that evening was a series of extracts from the as-yet-unfinished orchestral work, Prometheus. At one point, he realised his playing lacked sufficient power for the bold orchestral sound he wanted, and to convey his intentions, he suddenly rose a few inches from the piano stool. But Sabaneev was soon won over. The music, he explains, was wildly new, and the performance mannerisms seemed to enhance these ‘convulsions of sound’.
Sabaneev describes another concert, in an unidentified large hall, where Scriabin's playing was ultimately enchanting. But there were many obstacles placed in the listener's way. Before he had even begun to play, there was Scriabin's lack of stage presence and his nervous demeanour.
To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.