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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67131/2
Recording details: June 1995
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: March 1996
Total duration: 11 minutes 24 seconds

Piano Sonata No 7 'Messe blanche', Op 64

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Sonata No 7, Op 64 (‘White Mass’, 1911), was actually finished before No 6, to which it is the counterpart. Scriabin loved the work; its nickname was his own invention and he associated it with ‘mystical feeling … total absence of … emotional lyricism’. He depicted bells, clouds, perfume, a ‘fountain of fire’. The movement is headed ‘Prophétique’ in the manuscript, but Koussevitzky, who by this time had become Scriabin’s publisher, altered it to the somewhat more prosaic ‘Allegro’. A symbol, this, of the composer’s growing Messianic pretensions: his plan was to write a ‘Mystery’ involving every conceivable art and sensation which would bring mankind to a new stage of awareness. Koussevitzky, whose feet were firmly planted on the ground, was of the opinion that the composer and his friends would simply have a good dinner and then go home.

The Seventh Sonata is a work of thrilling sonorities: the fanfares and hieratic gestures of the opening are complemented by repeated chords which flicker like lightning, and solemnly chiming bells lead into the second theme associated with it, a powerful motive of invocation. Bells have been potent symbols for Russian composers from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko to Rachmaninov’s choral setting of Poe. The contrasting second subject symbolizes an unworldly peace; it is associated with arpeggio figures which drift languidly like clouds of incense. The development is concerned mainly with alternations of the two principal themes but also introduces a new, ‘sparkling’ motive like a glimpse of distant light. At the lead-back to the recapitulation, where the first theme appears in the ‘Thalberg’ scoring with astonishing effect, bell-chimes and lightning flashes combine in a veritable storm of sonority. After the recapitulation, a second development, increasingly dominated by the new theme from the main development section, becomes a vertiginous dance, ‘the ultimate dance before the moment of dematerialisation’ according to the composer. The bells peal wildly, culminating in a huge chord extending over five octaves to the top note of the keyboard. The effect of this climactic multiple crossing of hands is like a rippling flash of blinding light. That Scriabin’s ‘dances’ had their own symbolism is shown by his interpretation of the final dissolving trills as images of ‘enervation’, ‘non-existence after the act of love’.

from notes by Simon Nicholls © 1996

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