Scriabin: Trois Morceaux, op. 45

performed by Manuel Ignacio de Íñigo, or below by Stanislav Neuhaus

(cover image by Mike Sharp)

Scriabin’s op. 45 dates from 1904, putting it between the fourth and fifth sonatas. In this work, you can still hear the kind of carefree, more Chopin-esque elements in his vocabulary. The Romantic roots are still visible here, but obviously, as compared with Chopin himself, are positively psychedelic. The pieces are as follows:

  1. Feuillet d’album in E flat major
  2. Poème fantasque in C major
  3. Prélude in E flat major

‘Feuillet’ means leaf or page in English. It’s followed by a poeme, and then a prelude. Also, ‘morceaux’ in English, as I only recently realized, is ‘morsels,’ as in ‘pieces,’ like ‘un morceau de pain,’ or, if you prefer, ‘un morceau de fromage.’

Robert Cummings at AllMusic describes the first piece as having “a theme whose sweet character is tinged by melancholy.” At Hyperion, it’s described as a “heartfelt love-song.” Can you hear a similar carefree, unbridled joy? It’s like the first glimmers of the bliss that is the fifth sonata, but on a scale that makes it seem almost lullaby-like, tender and loving.

The second piece is “a quicksilver one-page essay of feline capriciousness.” It has a bit of the jitteriness of later sonatas, is slithery and even a bit seductive in its rippling liquid texture, and ends abruptly. As in… you’d be forgiven for thinking someone hit the pause button.

The final installment, the prelude, has a bit of a story to it. As Simon Nichols writes:

Op 45 No 3 concludes a little trilogy along with an Album leaf and a Poème fantasque—as literary and philosophical ideas grew in importance, the poème became a favoured form. This short opus accompanies a crisis point in Scriabin’s life: living in Geneva, preaching an ‘artistic and political gospel’, in 1904 he left his wife for the twenty-year-old Tatiana Schloezer. The fantastical upward arpeggios at the end of each phrase here symbolize Scriabin’s flight (in both senses) into experimental, speculative realms.

That claim to symbolism seems like a stretch to me, but it does fit if you try to think of it that way. Regardless of what symbolic meaning you’d like to attribute to it, it’s rich and vivid, ornate, like a dripping-wet brush on a clean canvas, just so rich and fluid, but without the kind of ominous, haunting atmosphere of the late sonatas. The third gets closest to that atmosphere, and has the most staying power in the way it reinforces a single mood, subtly but convincingly. There’s less of an air of an improvisation, and more of… I’m not sure, an expression that has been well thought out, premeditated.

If you haven’t yet warmed up to Scriabin’s music, and I can see how it would take you some time to wrap your ears around the late sonatas, this is a great place to start, as are the first four sonatas. I went at them with brute force, listening over and over and over again, more rote memory than any appreciation, but even then, there was a time when they clicked and I came to love them in all their colorful, dark, expressive, drippingly detailed glory. But this would have been a better place to start, I think.

We were originally going to be seeing more from Scriabin, but I called an audible and we’ve swapped his second appearance out in favor of someone else. We’ll see that next week, but stay tuned this week for some Bartók. Thanks so much for reading.

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