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Alexander Scriabin

Unknown Born 06 Jan 1872 Died 27 Apr 1915
Scriabin was born into an aristocratic family in Moscow on Christmas Day 1871 according to the Julian Calendar. When he was only a year old, his mother, a concert pianist, died of tuberculosis. Scriabin's father left for Turkey, leaving the young infant with his doting grandmother and great aunt. He studied the piano from an early age, taking lessons with Nikolay Zverev, a strict disciplinarian, who was teaching Sergei Rachmaninoff and a number of other prodigies at the same time.

Scriabin later studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Anton Arensky, Sergei Taneyev, and Vasily Ilyich Safonov. He became a noted pianist despite his small hands with a span of barely over an octave. Feeling challenged by Rachmaninov, who had exceptionally large hands, he seriously damaged his right hand while practicing Liszt's Don Juan Fantasy. His doctor said he would never recover, and he wrote his first large-scale masterpiece, the F minor sonata, as a "cry against God, against fate". Unmoved by the requirement to write several pieces in forms that didn't interest him, Scriabin failed his composition class and didn't graduate. Ironically, the one requirement he did complete, an E minor fugue, became required learning for decades at the Conservatory.

Scriabin married a pianist, Vera Ivanova Isakovich, after graduation and had several children, but he eventually left his wife and teaching position for a young pupil, Tatiana Fyodorovna Schloezer (Tatiana de Schloezer), with whom he had a son named Julian. That son was also a prodigy, who composed several sophisticated pieces before drowning in a boating accident at age 11. He also painted and wrote poetry.

Scriabin, previously interested in Friedrich Nietzsche's übermensch theory, also became interested in theosophy, and both would influence his music and musical thought. In 1909-10 he lived in Brussels, becoming interested in Delville's Theosophist movement and continuing his reading of Hélène Blavatsky (Samson 1977). Theosophist and composer Dane Rudhyar wrote that Scriabin was "the one great pioneer of the new music of a reborn Western civilization, the father of the future musician," (Rudhyar 1926b, 899) and an antidote to "the Latin reactionaries and their apostle, Stravinsky" and the "rule-ordained" music of "Schoenberg's group." (Ibid., 900-901).

Scriabin was a hypochondriac his entire life. He died in Moscow from septicemia, contracted as a result of a shaving cut or a boil on his lip. For some time before his death he had planned a multi-media work to be performed in the Himalayas, that would bring about the armageddon, "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world" (AMG [1]). This piece, Mysterium, was never realized.

He was possibly the uncle of Vyacheslav Molotov, the Russian politician and eponym of the Molotov cocktail. Molotov's original surname was Scriabin. Simon Montefiore in his biography of Stalin, states that despite the shared family name, Molotov was not in any way related to the composer. Scriabin wrote poetry, which was generally tied to his compositions, and it is not taken seriously by itself.

Pianists who have performed Scriabin to critical acclaim include Vladimir Sofronitsky, Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. Horowitz performed for Scriabin, in his home as a youth, and Scriabin had an enthusiastic reaction, but cautioned that he needed further training. Horowitz remarked, as an elderly man, that Scriabin was obviously crazy, because he had tics and couldn't sit still. Despite Horowitz' assessment, Scriabin held the rapt attention of the musical world in Russia while he was alive.
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