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Alexander Scriabin's style and musical gestures in the late piano sonatas: Sonata No.8 as a template towards a paradigm for interpretation and performance

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:54 authored by Stefanie Huei-Ling Seah
Alexander Scriabin’s piano sonatas are largely regarded as the most significant works in the genre since Beethoven. They outline the development of his compositional style from the youthful Chopinesque works, to his mature, idiosyncratic post-tonal offerings. According to his close friend, biographer, and critic Leonid Sabaneyev, despite Scriabin’s philosophy suffering “from too many manifest faults”, his late music is “incomprehensible and incomplete” when “severed from his philosophy”. Consequently, this treatise focuses on Scriabin’s unique compositional voice through an examination of his idiosyncratic musical gestures, and the points of their interaction/intersection with his eclectic philosophizing. Recognizing the absence of a substantial interpretive system that reconciles Scriabin’s music with his philosophical outlook in the available Scriabin-scholarship, this dissertation investigates the impact of his mystical beliefs upon his compositional style. This is largely achieved through the identification and scrutiny of symbolic gestures in his idiosyncratic pianistic style. Part 1 constitutes the examination of Scriabin’s symbolic gestures that routinely feature in his late works: unity, summons, light, flight, occult, resonance, sensuality, eroticism, ecstasy, and transformation/dissipation. Part 2 discusses Sonata no.8, which stands to benefit the most from a gestural reading, due to the near absence of the composer’s customary vivid French annotations. A brief discussion regarding issues of interpretation and performance of that sonata and Scriabin’s late keyboard works completes this dissertation. The investigative method outlined above, in synergy with the composer's complex beliefsystem, develops a new gestural framework for perceiving and interpreting Scriabin's work; one that blurs the conventional distinctions between musicologist and performer, enabling informed conceptualizations and gestalt performances of these ‘symbolist’ works. Sonata No.8 is used as a matrix upon which this theoretical approach is applied. Through relative comparisons and references to the other late sonatas, the Eighth is proffered as an interpretive model upon which analogous interpretations may be based.


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