Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (6 January 1872 [O.S. 25 December 1871] – 27 April [O.S. 14 April] 1915) was a Russian composer and pianist. Scriabin’s work initially possessed a lyrical and idiosyncratic tonal language in line with the innovations of Frédéric Chopin, but developed an increasingly atonal and dissonant sound. Scriabin is known for developing, independent of the advances of Arnold Schoenberg, an atonal musical system, accorded to mysticism. Scriabin innovated several new harmonic techniques initially based on romanticism but moving increasingly into contemporary musical atonality; he is known for associating colors with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale. Scriabin was influenced by synesthesia, and his color-coded circle of fifths was also influenced by theosophy. He may be considered to be the main Russian Symbolist composer. Scriabin is also known for his eccentricities and mystical beliefs, which contributed to the angle at which he approached music and harmonization. Scriabin was one of the most innovative and most controversial of early modern composers. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia said of Scriabin that, “No composer has had more scorn heaped or greater love bestowed…” Leo Tolstoy once described Scriabin’s music as “a sincere expression of genius.”
While early works, including his first preludes and major works such as his piano concerto, exhibit strong tonal romanticism, even here Scriabin moves toward a progressively more modern sound. But his turn to sharp dissonance is notable in his later piano sonatas, especially the fifth piano sonata.
Scriabin had a major impact on the music world over time, and influenced composers like Roy Agnew, Nikolai Roslavets, Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, although Scriabin was reported to have disliked the last two. Scriabin’s importance in the Soviet musical scene, and internationally, drastically declined. ‘No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death.’ In the 1970s, for instance, there were only three recordings of his complete (published) sonatas. Yet, Scriabin’s work has steadily regained popularity; Scriabin’s piano music, particularly the sonatas, has grown in popularity with professional pianists in recent decades.