Dark Harmonies

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Of all the oddball personalities in classical music, Scriabin may be the strangest. His dozen piano sonatas (the first two are unnumbered), dating from 1886 to 1913, run the gamut of his eccentricity.

A hardcore mystic and egomaniac, he claimed that “the whole world is inundated with my waves of being”. He had a physicist build an apparatus that showered audiences with a spectrum of lights during his concerts. Scriabin’s last, unfinished work, the Mysterium, involved a monumental assortment of orchestras and choruses to perform at the base of the Himalayas. It would herald the end of the world and lead humanity, he believed, into a prelapsarian wonderland.

Put briefly, Scriabin fancied himself both Christ and Antichrist, and Nietzschean overman to boot.

His music is as compelling and as it is ethereal. Sonatas 1-4 are more youthful works, with a romantic gloss. But all that changes around the time of the 5th Sonata (from then on, all of his sonatas are one-movement works) which is like a mysterious threshold at the bottom of the sea.  Esoteric chords play against softly demonic trills. Upheavals arise out of whispered melodies in totally innovative shadings and unnameable hues. The 7th and 9th are called, respectively, “White Mass” and “Black Mass”, and could be what you might hear in the White and Black Lodges from Twin Peaks.

In the 5th Sonata, his direction to the pianist could be a signpost to all of his works: “With fantastic intoxication”. If Chopin, Madame Blavatsky, Satie and Alban Berg suddenly merged into one person, that individual would be Scriabin.

Vox issued this triple album of Michael Ponti’s accessible recordings. Gustave Klimt’s artwork is certainly evocative of the experience of listening to these sonatas.

 

 

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