Friday, October 25, 2013

Pianoforte and Aleksandr Scriabin

I came across a brilliant discourse by Stuart Scott on how Aleksandr Scriabin made a great name for himself as a concert pianist. He managed this in a period when Rachmaninov, Arensky and Taneyev were playing and the public were used to hearing such giants of the keyboard. This fact ndicates that Scriabin was backed with some calibre. There are sufficient comments by musicians who knew Scriabin or worked with him or heard him play testifying his abilities as a performer and composer. A point has to be noted that Scriabin never played music of any other composer after his conservatoire recitals and he was never without critics whose bad reviews were because of their dislike of his music and his piano technique. After his last piano recital in Moscow in 1915, Grigori Prokofiev wrote in the Russian Musical Gazette said, “What makes Scriabin’s music ravishing is simply the enchantment of his performance. The tone is marvellous, despite a continuous sharpness, even clanging ‘mezzo piano’, but he achieves extraordinary effects. Don’t forget he is a wizard with the pedal, though his ethereal sounds cannot quite fit the hall. He breaks the rhythmic flow and something new comes out each time. This suffuses the performance with freshness. Never has he played his Fourth Sonata with more mastery or sincerity as he did yesterday. What power he put in the theme in the second movement! Yet the actual sound was not big. The secret is in the energetic rhythm”. It is well known that Scriabin did not play a piece in the same way at each performance. He played according to his mood declaring that “a piano composition is many facetted … alive and breathes on its own. It is one thing today, and another tomorrow, like the sea. How awful it would be if the sea were the same every day and the same forever, like a movie film!” It is also well known that Scriabin’s playing was extremely free as far as rhythm was concerned. In 1916, N. N. Cherkass, published a book entitled, “Scriabin as Pianist and Piano Composer”. Here he pointed out the reasons why he thought Scriabin was a bad pianist, but the book does contain a certain objectivity which is useful to a musicologist. Scriabin would use the pedal to help create the desired effect for his compositions. The pedal was a necessity for his slow changing harmonies. The use of the pedal in his music was not for a legato effect, but mostly for sustaining harmonies. It is clear from Scriabin’s compositions that he was a master when it came to pedal techniques and tonal balance. There is no doubt also that he created a great impact on his audiences with his magnetism. When Scriabin died, Rachmaninov gave a series of recitals in memory of his friend.Rachmaninov’s playing was that of a nineteenth century virtuoso whose performances were always controlled and refined, technically brilliant with a good sense of form. As if seeking a logic in Skryabin’s harmonic structure, Rachmaninov artificially condensed the tempi. Although Skryabin’s beginnings were Chopinesque, he soon developed a highly individual style in his compositions.As a teacher, Scriabin insisted that the first quality to be sought for in performance was intoxication. He captured the imagination of his followers and held his audiences captive. His recitals were events not to be missed. They caused excitement in the musical world and he was hailed as a star, not only by the public but by fellow musicians, some of whom were of an older generation. He possessed all the basic qualities of a concert pianist. His memory and technique were excellent. He learned things quickly and had a good sense of pitch. His pedal effects were outstanding. He had small hands and that his right hand troubled him occasionally but it was never too serious to cancel a performance because of it. What he lacked in his right hand, he made up for in the technique of his left. His phrasing was subtle and he worked on tonal shadings. As with his approach to sound, Scriabin had a new approach to rhythm.

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