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Customer Discussions > Classical Music forum

Listening Group Selection #30: Scriabin, Piano Sonatas nos. 4 and 5

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Showing 1-11 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 9, 2012 5:46:48 PM PST
Dichterliebe says:
Scriabin Piano Sonata no. 4 in F-sharp Major op. 30 (1903)
Scriabin Piano Sonata no. 5 in F-sharp Major op. 53 (1907)

Scriabin is a composer we rarely discuss but he is a great and very unique one. Since these sonatas represent his middle period during which he wrote some of his most archetypal yet accessible works and because these two sonatas are so short, I thought a comparison of stylistic growth and complexity as well as technical details would make for an interesting discussion. They are also in the same key and share certain characteristics such as an eroticism and languid mood but as you'll hear, the 5th is far more advanced.

Here are the suggested performances but there are many, many others:'

Laredo plays the sonatas very well although the piano she used for these recordings is slightly out-of-tune. Some will no doubt fault her playing for a lack of imagination and freedom but I think her performances illustrate that a straightforward approach with Scriabin balances some of the music's inherent indulgence. There is a tightness and (particularly in the 4th's second movement) a rhythmic vitality that I find essential.

I'll add a short blurb tomorrow as I have things to do this evening. Wiki has a decent analysis of the 5th:

I hope you like these pieces as much as I do.

Posted on Nov 9, 2012 8:05:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2012 1:00:22 PM PST
Larkinfield says:
Great choices. I have Laredo's Scriabin Sonata cycle and entirely agree about her straightforward approach. I like the 3rd as well as the ones mention here, and I consider his 5th as quintessential Scriabin in how it seems to lift off the ground, struggle against gravity and shimmer in the air. Scriabin's interest in the spiritual philosophy of Theosophy greatly influenced his music as his harmonies continued to uniquely evolve in its combination of sensuality and mysticism. The 5th is a favorite of mine because of its ending that floats off into outer space in a way that the sonata seems to continue in the invisible realms for infinity or somehow brings the listener back to its beginning.

The time came too early for the passing of Mahler and Scriabin, both of whom had developed such a highly personal language that evolved out of itself so organically and naturally. I feel that the early direction of 20th Century music might have been far more fascinating if they'd been granted a few more years of development. But even as it was, Scriabin's piano sonatas are prophetic and point toward the great interest in the mysticism of the East that was to explode during the '60s and has continued until today. Thanks to D for these selections. Lark ♬

Posted on Nov 10, 2012 4:12:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2012 4:23:05 PM PST
Edgar Self says:
For the Fourth Sonata, one of the shortest, and the last sensible one: Pletnev and Antonio Iturrioz

For the Fifth Sonata, Horowitz (he didn't record the Fourth.

For both: Szidon, Igor Zhukov, Ashkenazy, Hamelin, Sofronitsky, Richter.

It's very interesting to hear Scriabin's own piano-rolls of his music, including a sonata, perhaps the Fourth, that I've never found; and also pianists who knew him, such as Alexander Goldenweiser (Scriabin dedicated music to him);, Heinrich Neuhaus, and Rachmaninoff.

I attended John Browning's master-class in conjunction with an internationalcompetition. One work was Scriabin's fifth sonata. He worked hard on it in detail with several students, but then threw up his hands and exclaimed in desperation, "Why don't we all just go home and listen to our Horowitz record?"

Posted on Nov 10, 2012 8:56:55 PM PST
KenOC says:
Dichterliebe, thanks for the selections! I should be able to listen on Monday. Fair warning, I'm no fan of Scriabin! But we'll see. ;-) I promise a fair trial before the execution.

Posted on Nov 10, 2012 9:50:17 PM PST
Dichterliebe says:
Ken, I promise that the 4th is easy listening. It's really a beautiful little sonata and the second movement has some jazz influence. Once the 4th is digested, take a deep breath and try the 5th. Scriabin actually considered the 4th an intro to the 5th. You may need a cigarette.

Posted on Nov 16, 2012 5:47:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2012 11:52:54 PM PST
KenOC says:
Thread duty...and a noble and self-sacrificing duty it is. I don't care for Scriabin and don't normally listen to his music. But I did, and note a very good quality of each sonata: it's brevity.

The 4th Sonata is in two movements, the second somewhat longer than the first (about 7:30 total). The first movement is mostly wandering music with soft, chromatic harmonies and an occasional resolution. To me, basically "mood music." There's lots of emphasis on embellishments. The tonal center is hard to grasp, the themes not at all obvious. The second movement is more animated with lots of mild syncopation. Some figurations are reminiscent of the first movement of Chopin's 2nd Piano Sonata. A fairly brilliant ending.

I won't talk about the 5th Sonata in detail (Wiki has an analysis with snippets of score). A single movement, about 13 minutes. This is a "real" one movement sonata, not like the one Liszt wrote. To me it's more interesting and clearly structured than #4. The language seems reminiscent of Debussy in many places.

Overall, you could take out a few of the more distinctive parts and use both these sonatas as background piano music in a high-class lounge. Sorry Alex, had to say it!

Posted on Nov 16, 2012 11:43:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2012 11:54:31 PM PST
Mandryka says:
The fifth is the first interesting piano sonata Scriabin wrote. I don't agree with KenOC about the 5th. Maybe he was listening to a shallow recording, it's certainly true that Horowitz plays it like mood music for a hotel room. But Horowitz is to be avoided, everyone knows that, and this sonata is ample proof of his worst traits.

By far the best records that I've heard of the 5th are played by Samuel Feinberg and Sviatoslav Richter.

The 4th is irredeemable.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 16, 2012 11:55:33 PM PST
KenOC says:
"But Horowitz is to be avoided, everyone knows that..."

That's pretty good! I listened to the recordings by Robert Taub, perhaps to be avoided as well.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 1:25:42 AM PST
Skaynan says:
Dichterliebe: sorry, but I just can't connect with Scriabin. I never seem to understand his music. And these two sonatas are no different. I tryed listening to them a few times (a friend sent me a recording because I didn't have them in my collection). It could be that the recording I have is not the best, I wouldn't know. But I still don't get it.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 6:34:40 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2012 6:53:38 AM PST
scarecrow says:
Me either I've never gotten much into Scriabin;
The God of the Black Mass knows I've tried---- I own all the Sonatas and Etudes,Preludes,don't know why--- I find Hugo Wolf more interesting, and or Siegfried Karg-Elert. . .

perhaps my infatuation,obsessional behavior in proximity to the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg fills this gap;

in terms of what the music is suppose to do, for Scriabin, there doesn't seem to be "breathing" places,spaces, he wanted to be more than intense, but he knew traditional form and that kept him on target;

I'ts curious why he continued to label his music "Sonatas" why not a poetical icon;perhaps that's too obvious, He wanted to retain the element of abstraction, so to nurture the opaque the unexplainable; the inextinguishable;
the music is dense many times for affects, effects, OK, we like that--everyone does it; for no apparent reason , Well there are good reasons:
hedonistic, libidinal realms, intoxicates, obsessions, "perfumes", hallucinogenics, all good things for art to engage in, Picasso said someplace that if you don't "steal" something in your art, you are not making Art, you are simply a bureaucrat, a stooge practicing your own false- art. . .you will never know the truth element in your art, or anyone's for that matter. . .

But certainly Sviatoslav Richter is incredible with this music, he sees all there is to see. . .in the music, like his WTC Bach. . .

Vladimir Ashkenazy as well is very good for Scriabin, understands what's there,makes the moments compelling; John Ogden was also recommended to me ;

anyone hear Vladimir Sofronitsky, or Nikolai Luganski?. .or Emil Gilels with Scriabin?
or Grigory Sokolov, I'd expect would be incredible; ;

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 7:07:14 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 17, 2012 7:08:33 AM PST
Listening to #4 right now. I have previously been completely unexposed to Scriabin. I've intended to check out his music but for some unknown reason or just coincidences, never did.

My initial impression is that this is "stream of consciousness" music. I hear 3 elements altenating in the first few minutes - a 9th with a suspension that resolves into a pure dominant 9th, a passing chord that probably has a b13 and finally a major chord with an added 9th. There is V to I movement or resolution with most of these chords and it is common to the period to use traditional theoretical ideas and blur them with dissonances - yet not completely move away from the power V to I can offer. Later it becomes jazzy! These are traditional jazz ideas with a bit of a loping rhythm, rather similar to "stride" piano. For 1903 this has to be somewhat forward looking although it may be more mainstream for the time and holes in my knowledge of music after 1880 are causing me to come to a false conclusion. Scriabin may have some oddities but in this sonata, the essential harmonic drive is constant and he doesn't abandon the power inherent in traditional resolutions - he just jazzes it up with larger chords. (9ths, 11ths, etc.)

It reminds me of an advanced music student experimenting, more or less playing just what comes to mind. I don't find it as "complete" yet - there are rough edges and a looseness that likely kept this from becoming more known. Still it is interesting and not what I expected.

Listening to #5 now after hearing #4 twice. This starts out in a similar vein to #4. I heard that Scriabin had a certain chord that he considered "celestial" or "magic" - anyways he supposedly used it often and it could be that he is using these certain note clusters repeatedly. It certainly sounds that way to my ears this morning. He is still building the music in a very tonal way, despite the dissonances. There are mercurial turns at times, I think he is trying to shock us a little. The age of the music rather weakens the effect. When first heard, these surely had a more impact.

I'm hearing a consistant method, something present in #4. Those 9th chords, suspensions and occasional tone clusters - you could almost lift music from #4 and put it in #5 and visa-verse. At least he had a consistent style! I think from now on, after just hearing these two sonatas I'll have a good shot at recognizing Scriabin.

Thank you Dichterliebe, my good man and internet friend for expanding my musical world and helping to fill a gap. I've been meaning to hear Scriabin ever since I was in college and don't know exactly how I didn't get around to it for 45 years!
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  8
Total posts:  11
Initial post:  Nov 9, 2012
Latest post:  Nov 17, 2012

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