The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin once said,
My Tenth Sonata is a sonata of insects. Insects are born from the sun…they are the sun’s kisses…How unified world-understanding is when you look at things this way. In science all is dis-unified, not made into one. It is analysis, not synthesis.
For the deeply mystical Scriabin, the circle of fifths became a vibrant color wheel in which musical keys were experienced through synesthesia. Influenced by Theosophy and the occult, Scriabin believed that “all the plants and little animals are expressions of our psyches. Their appearance corresponds to the movement of our souls.” He famously and provocatively wrote, “I am God.”
The Piano Sonata No. 10, composed in 1913, was one of Scriabin’s final works. Unfolding in a single movement, it is filled with vibrant, incessant trills which evoke the buzzing of insects. Some listeners hear birdsongs and the sounds of the forest. The intensely chromatic harmonic language pushes to the doorstep of atonality. Radiant, playful sparks of color emerge throughout the piece. The final bars conclude with a fleeting C natural. For Scriabin, the purity of this pitch had cleansing properties, as if to wipe the tonal slate clean.
In a Twitter post, the pianist Yuja Wang wrote, “In his last sonata Scriabin invites us to his mystical, sensual sound world.” Here is her 2018 concert recording:
- Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70, Yuja Wang Amazon
Featured Image: closeup of a dragonfly in the sun