Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Scriabin and Rachmaninoff

While preparing to write about yesterday's Noontime Concerts™ recital on my site, for which pianist Ivan Sokolv performed the first of the two poems of Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 32 as an encore, I found myself thinking about the relationship between Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Scriabin was only slightly older than Rachmaninoff, born on January 6, 1872 before Rachmaninoff's birth on April 1, 1873 (both dates in our own, rather than the Russian, calendar system). They were fellow students at the Moscow Conservatory and good friends. However, Scriabin died much earlier than Rachmaninoff, in 1915; and Rachmaninoff marked the occasion with a recital consisting only of Scriabin's piano compositions.

Scriabin was the far more adventurous composer, although one runs into signs of influence in some of Rachmaninoff's shorter pieces, such as the Opus 39 set of Études-Tableaux. On the other hand, Scriabin's adventurousness could well have gotten the better of him had he lived into the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Rachmaninoff at least got himself to the United States and took reasonably well to capitalism. That involved promoting his own style of both performing and composing that Richard Taruskin has dubbed "New Stile Antico." Had circumstances been different, Rachmaninoff might have had more time to reflect on where Scriabin's finger was pointing; but they weren't. As a result history remembers Scriabin as the pioneer who never found his own "promised land" and Rachmaninoff as a technical master who chose to appeal to the popular tastes of his new American homeland from the comfort of a house in Beverly Hills.

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