Michael McCooe – Composer: Scriabin

Alexander Scriabin (25th December 1871 – 14th April 1915) was a Russian composer and pianist. His early works took inspiration from Frederic Chopin and are characterised by a highly tonal idiom.

Personal journey

Born in Moscow on Christmas Day 1871, his father and uncles were all away with military careers. His mother, who had a career as a concert pianist, died of tuberculosis when he was just a year old, leaving him to be brought up by his grandmother. He studied piano from a young age and went on to study at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1894, Scriabin made his debut as a pianist in St. Petersburg, performing his own works to positive reviews.

He married the young pianist Vera Ivanovna Isakovich three years later and then toured around Europe, ending in 1898 with a concert in Paris. That year he became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory and began to establish his reputation as a composer.

He split from his wife in 1905 after the pair had moved to Switzerland with their four children. With the financial wealth gained from his successful beginnings in music, he spent several years travelling across Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium and the United States while working on more orchestral pieces, including several symphonies. He later settled in Paris before returning to Russia in 1909.

Musical summary of Scriabin


Later in his career, Scriabin’s music became more dissonant and had a substantially atonal musical pattern which worked alongside his personal mystic style. He is considered by many as the best known Russian Symbolist composer.

While various composers of his generation sought musical versatility, Scriabin was happy to write almost exclusively for solo piano and for orchestra. The étude, prelude, nocturne and the mazurka are each in line with the works of Chopin. There are also traces of Franz Liszt within Scriabin’s music, particularly in his ten sonatas – which were composed in a fairly conventional late-Romantic manner.

His later works are very different are built on the acoustic and octatonic scales, as well as the nine-note scale resulting from their combination. While Scriabin only wrote a small number of orchestral works, these are among his most famous, and some are still performed frequently today. They include a piano concerto (1896), as well as five symphonic works, including three numbered symphonies as well as The Poem of Ecstasy (1908) and Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910).

In 1915, at the age of 43, he died in Moscow from septicemia as a result of a sore on his upper lip. Scriabin was small and reportedly frail throughout his life and left many of his pieces unfinished – several of which had been intended for the novel Mysterium, like the Two Dances Op. 73.