The Poem of Ecstasy by Scriabin on Symphony @ 7

Alexander Scriabin(Photo: Wikipedia)
Alexander Scriabin(Photo: Wikipedia)

This week on Symphony @ 7, we are featuring fourth symphonies by five composers.  We started with Brahms and Beethoven, but with this evening’s work we’re fudging the definition just a bit.

The Poem of Ecstasy by Alexander Scriabin is a 20 minute symphonic tone poem, but the composer himself referred to it as his Fourth Symphony, so we’re taking his word for it.  It is a rich and dense 20 minutes of music that takes you through quite a journey.

Alexander Scriabin, who was a pianist as well as a composer, was born in 1872 and lived only until 1915.  He was inspired by the individual style of Chopin and went on to develop a unique modern style of his own that influenced both Prokofiev and Stravinsky.  Scriabin was one of the most visionary and progressive composers at a time when new ideas in music were flourishing.  His influence waned rather quickly after his death, but more recently there seems to be a renewed interest in his music.

Written between 1905 and 1908, The Poem of Ecstasy expresses in music the composer’s philosophical ideas influenced by mystical trends, including theosophy, which was in vogue in Russia at the time.  Scriabin believed that music was the most highly evolved of the arts and that the feeling of ecstasy,  the most highly evolved human emotion.  Scriabin wrote a poem to accompany this work that ends with the lines, “I am a moment illuminating eternity….I am affirmation…I am ecstasy.”

This is music of extreme emotional intensity that builds to an ecstatic climax, and the composer’s melding of the sensual and intellectual qualities is intentional.  Some thought Scriabin went over the top into a kind of creative megalomania, but sometimes that can be a part of visionary artistic expression, if you’re willing to go along for the ride.  Judge for yourself this evening on Symphony @ 7.

Here’s a sample: