Movement 1: Allegro con fuocoso
Movement 2: [crotchet = 40]
Movement 3: Presto
Movement 4: Funèbre
The second movement depicts the doubts and prayers of Scriabin’s notebook. The language here, appropriately, is close to César Franck. The first sixteen bars, which return at the end of the movement, are a prayer; personal confession comes with the more florid middle section with its ‘weeping’ falling chromaticisms.
The third movement sounds like a finale; it remains incomplete, however, and after a dramatic break leads into a funeral march—a memorable inspiration and, with its bass tied to a two-note ostinato, extremely Russian, on a line which leads from Mussorgsky’s ‘Bydlo’ (from Pictures at an Exhibition) to the slow movement of Prokofiev’s Second Sonata. Twice the inexorable march is interrupted by a chordal passage described by Scriabin’s first English biographer, Arthur Eaglefield Hull, as ‘an angelic song’; but those angels are a million miles away: the chords are marked ‘quasi niente’—almost inaudible—and the song leads nowhere. In the context of the Sonata’s late-Romantic language the bare fifth of the final cry is startlingly brutal—a rejection, perhaps, of the comfort of traditional solutions.
Scriabin gave only one complete performance of this Sonata; perhaps its associations were too painful. But he may, also, have been conscious that the work’s reflection of experience is raw and unassimilated. The ‘dim religious light’ of the second movement gives little relief from the sombre mood of the others and there is more than a hint of self-pity and self-dramatisation about the whole piece. Perhaps it was this that led Aldous Huxley, in Antic Hay, to describe Scriabin as ‘the Tchaikovsky de nos jours’, a put-down which can easily be read as a compliment. Like Tchaikovsky, Scriabin is a master of his craft; and Hugh Macdonald has pointed out that the despairing finale of Scriabin’s First Sonata precedes Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ by a year.
from notes by Simon Nicholls © 1996