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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67057/8
Recording details: June 2000
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Amanda Hurton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: February 2001
Total duration: 5 minutes 57 seconds

Five Preludes, Op 74
composer
1914

Fier, belliqueux  [0'58]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
With the five preludes of Op 74 (1914) we come to the last completed works of Scriabin before his sudden and unexpected death from blood-poisoning. At this period all his music was pointing towards the Mysterium project mentioned at the beginning of these notes, and in a public letter he welcomed the onset of war with naive idealism. But on Scriabin’s visit to London the previous year the practically minded Henry Wood observed that ‘he looked far from well and seemed to be a mass of nerves’. The unconscious mind, the wellspring of creation, is often wiser than the conscious, and these pieces impress us, not as millennial visions but as scarifying documents of individual and social catastrophe; not as tending towards some vast Gesamtkunstwerk but as returning to the improvisatory personal ‘miniature’ framework which had accompanied Scriabin throughout his career. This is, of course, an unprovable personal reaction, and Scriabin said of these last pieces that, as a crystal reflects many lights and colours, they could be played to express differing concepts.

The marking of No 1 can be translated as ‘painful, heart­rending’; repeatedly it returns to the same wrenching dissonance as if obsessively seeking out a source of pain or grief. Of No 2 (where the bass never leaves Scriabin’s tonal centre of F sharp) the composer said, ‘Here is fatigue, exhaustion … all eternity, millions of years …’. The vague tumult of No 3 rises to a ‘cry’ (Scriabin’s marking), like a shout in the night. The harmonic language is close to that of ‘Flammes sombres’ (‘Dark Flames’), Op 73 No 2. No 4 has the effect of a parenthesis: its style of strict four-part harmony and meandering ‘undecided’ harmony are unique in a composer who wrote so pianistically and always, as he said, ‘according to principle’. Does this signal what could have been a new point of departure for Scriabin? Unique, too, is the simultaneous major and minor third in the final harmony. Phrases from Wells and Shaw come to mind: ‘Mind at the end of its tether’, ‘As far as thought can reach’. No 5 connects with the end of No 3 and with the bellicose vein noted previously. The elements: two-note bass figures, tumultuous up-and-down arpeggiations, are familiar from Op 59 No 2, but the harmonic language and thematic development are taken incalculably further; and, as A E Hull pointed out long ago, the final great descent seems to end Scriabin’s output, intended to be so affirmative, with a tremendous question.

from notes by Simon Nicholls © 2001

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