Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5 arrived amid a six day burst of creative energy in December of 1907. In a letter, the composer’s wife, Tatyana Schloezer, reported,
Sasha has already managed… to compose a fifth sonata!!! I don’t believe my ears, it is unbelievable! The sonata flowed from him in a kind of stream. […] What you have heard is nothing, the sonata is unrecognizable, it cannot be compared with anything. He has played it through several times, and all he has to do is to write it down .
The work, which the composer described as “a big poem for the piano,” is a companion to Scriabin’s rapturous The Poem of Ecstasy, which was completed during the same time. As with The Poem of Ecstasy, the Sonata makes use of the six note “mystic chord,” a “smoky” tonality which Scriabin associated with the divine. The score is inscribed with a quotation of the 300-line literary poem which Scriabin penned before beginning The Poem of Ecstasy:
I call you to life, mysterious forces!
Drowned in the obscure depths
of the creative spirit, timid
Embryos of life, to you I bring audacity!
Sonata No. 5 is set in a single movement. Filled with sudden shifts in mood, this music seems to probe the deepest psychological recesses. Explosive and volatile outbursts alternate with moments of haunting stillness. Fragments of the Sonata’s themes “awaken” in the dreamy prologue. In the recapitulation, “the opening bars are brought back in miniature, speeded up and lightened so that we ‘fly’ through them.” (Simon Nicholls) The final bars take flight with an ecstatic upward surge. The final unresolved bars dissipate into a glittering splash of color.
Five Great Recordings
- Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53, Alexei Sultanov Amazon
- Sviatoslav Richter
- Vladimir Ashkenazy
- Garrick Ohlsson
- Marc-André Hamelin
Featured Image: cover page of one of the first editions of the work. Russischer Musikverlag, 1910, with an engraving by Ivan Bilibin