Friday, September 14, 2018

Scriabin's "Divine Poem": was this inspired by the Lizst B-minor Sonata?

Here’s another piece that seems inspired by Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, and tries to solve the problem of how a layered cyclical work like this should end.

It’s “The Divine Poem”, the Symphony #3 in C Minor, Op. 43, composed 1902-1904 by Alexander Scriabin.

Here’s a performance with a lot of commentary by Igor Golovshin and the Moscow Symphony (video recently replaced).

The official documentation of the work list it as having four sections:  A slow introduction, then a first movement (“Struggles” or “Luttes”), a slow movement (“Delights” or “Voluptes”) and “Divine Play” (“Jeu Divin”, call it “Godly play” if you want).

The first movement has three subjects, with the third of these more or less comparable to the Liszt Grandioso theme.  The movement winds down after a violent climax in the brief recapitulation to the slow movement which is like the central section of the Liszt Sonata. Then the “Finale” (the “play”) does further development, some of it fugal, and builds up to a tremendous coda combining all the themes of the work.  The very end bears a curious resemblance to the way D’Albert ends his Piano Concerto #1 and Scriabin probably knew this work.

In fact, after a pivot on the submediant, Scriabin hold the orchestra on a sustained C Major chord while the Wagner Ring arpeggios play underneath and then Scriabin offers three conclusive crashes on C to end.
The style of the work, from a Russian composer, seems both French (with some impressionistic harmonies in the quieter passages) and German (almost Wagnerian).  The cyclical structure, of course, had been tried by Cesar Franck and his D Minor Symphony. But in his piano music, Scriabin would experiment with bizarre new effects and his own form of atonality. 

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