THE CALL OF THE STARS
Pühendatud Alexander Scriabini 140. sünnipäevale
Vardo Rumessen, klaver
Dedicated to the 140th anniversary of Alexander Scriabin. 4-CD-set. Release: Apr 2012.
So much do I love my star that if I shall no longer look at it, if it will not shine upon my life, and if I shall not strive towards it, then thought will die, and everything along with it. Better I should disappear within a wild outburst, but for thought to remain and triumph.
Listening to this music I hear distinct connections with the scientific properties connected to this world. Light, darkness, heat, frost, oceanic rhythms and their pulsating effects, together with their yearning – in unison they create a vacillating effect of our natural earthly elements of fire and air.
|1−20||20 Poems (from Op 32, 44, 45, 51, 59, 61, 63, 69, 71, and 72)||55:55|
|1−15||15 Pieces for Piano (from Op 9, 47, 49, 51, 52, 56, 57, 58, and 73)||34:01|
|16−27||12 Etudes (from Op 2, 8, 42, and 65)||36:54|
|1−17||17 Preludes (from Op 11, 15, 16, 22, 31, 33, 37, 45, 49, 49, 68, and 74)||33:48|
|18−21||Sonata No 3, Op 23||18:18|
|22−23||Sonata No 4, Op 30||7:41|
|24||Sonata No 5, Op 52||11:05|
|1||Sonata No 6, Op 62||12:16|
|2||Sonata No 7, Op 64||12:31|
|3||Sonata No 8, Op 66||12:14|
|4||Sonata No 9, Op 68||7:42|
|5||Sonata No 10, Op 70||11:12|
Recorded 1972−2011 in Estonia Concert Hall, Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Estonian Radio and House of Blackheads, Tallinn
Instruments: Steinway & Sons, Blüthner
Engineered by Tanel Klesment, Lepo Sumera, Priit Kuulberg, Aili Jõeleht
Mastered by Tanel Klesment
Liner notes by Vardo Rumessen
Translations by Kristopher Rikken
Liner notes edited by Virve Normet
Design by Tiina Sildre
Produced by Peeter Vähi
Special thanks to Estonian Public Broadcasting and Mr Margus Allikmaa
© 2012 Estonian Record Productions, Estonian Classics
Thinking of Scriabin, we cannot shake the feeling that he was a musical prophet of his age, that his work illuminated with a “powerful radiance” (Puissant radieux, Sonata No 10) the many decades to come, embodying the ideals and strivings characteristic of his own era. Scriabin tried to make the world better through his music. As a composer, it would not be excessive to regard him as a bearer of light, an enlightener, who, like the mythical hero Prometheus gave people fire and confidence in their own power.
As a composer, Scriabin in the early 20th century was one of the greatest innovators, or “modernists”, as they were called. But the novelty of his music, which was fodder for many arguments in its day, was not expressed solely in its harmony or the extraordinary nature of the musical themes. The profoundly personal nature of his work lies in the singularity of his persona. He strove to distil philosophical ideas and intuitive concepts related to the human spirit into sound. Moreover, Scriabin was actually the first composer who aspired into the expanses of the cosmos, seeing it above all as God’s miraculous creation. Fascinated by philosophical problems, he was increasingly inclined toward mysticism in the twilight of his life. His artistic philosophy was based on the principle that art is an act of creation through which people can become transubstantiated, passing from the material world into the spiritual one. An artist’s act of creation could thus be an escape, a surmounting of the material barrier surrounding us all. It could be said that all of Scriabin’s works serve that purpose; he saw it as an instrument of his transcendentalist philosophy.
The novelty and uniqueness of Scriabin’s music caused great elation in his own lifetime but also met with strong opposition. Nevertheless, his extraordinarily bold musical ideas had an impact on the development of music in general. Echoes of his work can be found in Estonian music as well. When Mart Saar studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory, he attended a Scriabin concert in 1909 and developed a lifelong affection for his work. Sheet music and books by Scriabin in Saar’s home library attest to this. Scriabin’s music also inspired Heino Eller, whose works have direct commonalities with Scriabin’s music. Both Saar and Eller dedicated a prelude to Scriabin’s memory. Scriabin’s music had a major impact on Eduard Tubin, which we can recognize in his earlier preludes and the Piano Sonata No 1.
Like Sergei Rachmaninov, his classmate Alexander Scriabin graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in two specialities – as pianist and composer. Scriabin began his piano studies very early in his life and became a noteworthy pianist of his era, often performing his works in Russia and abroad. His piano playing was characterized by great personal character and lyricism. His playing was not especially powerful but was outstanding for its subtle use of tone and flexibility of phrasing. Scriabin created his own interpretational style that was just as singular as his compositions. The playing style developed over a longer period of time in connection with stylistic changes in his work. To play Scriabin, a performer must have a great dedication, poetic sensibility, expressiveness, and special attention to the sound of the piano. The best performers of Scriabin, such as Vladimir Sofronitsky, Heinrich Neuhaus Vladimir Horowitz, and nowadays Igor Nikonovich, possess these traits. Scriabin’s student Maria Nemenova-Lunts has recalled that Scriabin paid great attention to the sound of the piano (“it had to be extracted like precious ore from within the earth”) and various pedal shadings (fluttering pedal, “pedal mist”). Scriabin said: “The keys of the piano must be stroked not pushed.” Konstantin Igumnov recalls: “He had a superb, somehow extraordinarily soft and vibrant piano sound, a light touch, extraordinarily flexible phrasing. He employed a superb use of the pedal and I concur with the view that while Scriabin is playing, one should look at his feet no less than his hands.” Scriabin often told his students: “Air, more air!” When performing his work, he re-created them each time. In his own words, music is permanently changing – it lives and breathes of its own accord, it is one thing today, something else tomorrow, like the sea. “If you listen to Scriabin’s performances on the Welte-Mignon records from 1910, you hear his taut, tense demeanour, the improvisational characteristics, extreme rhythmic freedom and passionately far-flung expressivity. His playing could at times be superlative, sometimes uncertain of itself, but mostly it was physically anaemic and lacked the lustre and power that would have filled large halls. He did not court external virtuosity, a hallmark of many pianists. Scriabin’s playing was intimate and improvisational, it was as if he was playing for himself, expressing his most secret thoughts and feelings. His style of expression was very personal and nuance-filled, characterized by soulfulness and “technique of the nerves”.
These personal and interpretive properties also influenced his piano playing, where he continued developing the traditions of Chopin and Liszt. His piano works are characterized by imagination and perfect harmony between the piano and the artistic themes. Like the piano works of Chopin and Rachmaninov, they are unprecedented, unique achievements in the history of the world’s piano music. His piano works are mainly miniatures typified by lyricism, contrast between alternately gossamer and passionately compelling themes, subtle nuance and suppleness of phrases, an ethereal or fantastic quality, erotic imagery and colourful harmonies. Scriabin is said to have played them at home, eyes closed. Among his piano works, the poems are notable for their novel use of form. Scriabin was the first composer to use the genre of “poem” in his piano works, giving it special expressiveness and distinctiveness. Of these, the poem Vers la Flamme is extremely distinctive and captivating, growing like a flame from embers into a crackling conflagration and representing something completely new in the world’s piano literature.
His ten piano sonatas are central to his oeuvre, and show most clearly the stylistic development of his music (some other piano works are written in sonata form, such as the Poeme-Nocturne, the poem Vers la Flamme). His last sonatas exhibit a Lisztian one-movement structure and are noteworthy for their harmonic colour and formal integrity. Several sonatas appear to have been composed as if in one breath. For instance, his most-often-played work is Sonata No 5, which was composed immediately after Poème de l’extase, composed in six days! Sonata No 4 is worthy of note due to its particular formal integrity. Scriabin himself had a special regard for his Sonata No 7, which opens up the cosmic world for us (the sonata was held in particularly high regard by Igor Stravinsky). The chord that resounds across all registers at the culmination of the sonata is noteworthy, as it is reminiscent of a sudden cosmic eruption or distant supernova. On the other hand, in Sonata No 9 we perceive a Satanic struggle and triumph of dark forces, which destroy all that is beautiful. Sonata No. 10 is special due to its new aural atmosphere; it glitters and sparkles in the radiance of unworldly qualities. Scriabin wrote about it: “Here there is a blinding light, as if the Sun had approached with the momentary breathlessness felt in moments of ecstasy.“
Scriabin wrote programmatic texts for a number of his compositions. Although he did not deem it necessary to print them, they provide a telling image of his creative strivings and intellectual world. Scriabin’s creative ambitions are very characteristically expressed in Sonata No 4. The first movement is like a mysterious reverie for which the Will is prepared to overcome all obstacles on its path, rushing onward to join in its distant goal in an ecstatic state of intoxication. The sonata’s programmatic nature is revealed to us in the description, which articulates artistic and symbolic aspirations and goals. Even though it cannot be seen as a direct programme, and was written after the sonata, the composer’s idea is nevertheless expressed – it is a flight toward a “distant light-blue star” (Heinrich Neuhaus). As a result, the structure of the work is extremely integral. The main theme in the sonata’s first movement, which is heard at first as a distant vision, tender and transparent, is transformed at the end of the second movement into passionate inebriation.
Very important in Scriabin’s life and work was his relationship with his second wife Tatiana Schloetzer, his composition student. Her brother was well-known philosopher Boris Schloetzer, who held Scriabin’s work in high esteem and wrote the following about Scriabin in his book: “The central idea behind Scriabin’s work is the idea of ecstasy. Scriabin strove toward it as a person, as an artist, as a thinker. He lived his life always having a premonition of ecstasy and his actions were all aimed at creating a global ecstasy that was to uplift all of humanity into such a state.”
Interested in philosophy from his early years, Scriabin took major interest in Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Arthur Schopenhauer, Sergei Trubetskoi, Vladimir Solovyov and other philosophers’ works. Scriabin was also interested in theosophy. His home library holds volumes of works by renowned theosophist Yelena Blavatskaya with annotations by Scriabin. Scriabin was also a member of the theosophical society. It is interesting to note that upon moving to Geneva in 1904, he visited a philosophy congress that took place there.
The evolution of Scriabin’s work and the explosive development of his idiom as a composer were direct fruits of his powerful will. His music was extremely innovative and personal, and his philosophical world was manifested in it. Scriabin’s work was an aspiration toward sensibility for the totality of the universe. Understanding this requires a sensibility and acknowledgement of the perfection and divine beauty of music as a supreme manifestation of art. The subjectivist music of Scriabin evolved out of his view of the world as an idealist. All of his creative ideation aspired toward artistic synthesis. In this vein, he wrote a number of lyrics for works, such as Poème de l’extase and L’acte préalable. The centrepiece of Scriabin’s oeuvre was Prometheus, where he used colour for the first time in music history. Scriabin had a special aptitude for associating sounds with specific colours (synesthesia), and he devoted a separate line in the score to it, marked Luce. It could be said that Prometheus was an epochal work in world music, in which the composer used a completely new harmonic system of his own devising, based on 6 tones (C, F-sharp, B-flat, E, A, D). This opened a new period in the composer’s work, which included his last sonatas (Nos 6–10). Scriabin’s objective in this work was to express divine power by loosing creative force and giving it a cosmic dimension. Prometheus was a symbol for him: “It is cosmic, active energy, a creative principle, it is fire, light, life, struggle, effort, thought.”
Scriabin considered his planned masterwork, Mysterium, to be the final act in his creative career, but it remained unfinished due to his untimely death. Besides music, poetic text, plastic dance, architecture and other media would have figured significantly in this work. In his imagination, he saw these as uniting and leading the people of the world in a general ecstasy into a new, spiritual age. It would be a fallacy to see Scriabin’s work as purely consisting of musical harmonies, separately from his philosophical convictions and poetic world, as has often been done. To understand Scriabin’s work, his music’s supernatural, transcendental nature and actual meaning must be comprehended as well. In his musical aspirations, Scriabin is one of the most singular manifestations in the world’s cultural history and it is hard, if not impossible, to compare him to any other composer.
Vardo Rumessen (1942) graduated from Prof Bruno Lukk and Eugen Kelder’s piano faculty at Tallinn Conservatory in 1971. Today he is one of the best known performers and promoters of Estonian piano music. Rumessen, who has frequently performed abroad – in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, the USA, Turkey, and Australia.
Rumessen has recorded piano and chamber music by Rudolf Tobias, Mart Saar, Heino Eller, Eduard Oja and Eduard Tubin. Vardo Rumessen is recognized as a master performer of Eduard Tubin’s piano music. He recorded a set of 3 CDs with piano music by Eduard Tubin for the Swedish company BIS in 1988. Rumessen was a personal friend of Tubin and had the opportunity to discuss the composer’s intentions in depth. Eduard Tubin has to a high degree authorized Vardo Rumessen’s interpretations of his music. Rumessen performed the American première of Tubin’s Piano Concertino in 1993 with the Longview Symphony Orchestra. Rumessen has performed works by Beethoven, Franck, Tobias and Tubin for piano and orchestra with the Estonian and Göteborg Symphony Orchestras, conducted by the late Peeter Lilje and Neeme Järvi. He has also performed frequently in ensemble with numerous singers, violinists, cellists, string quartets and other musicians.
Although Rumessen has achieved his success mainly as a performer of Estonian classical music, he has performed a lot of music from other parts of the world. His largest undertakings have been such as the complete Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier I, Scriabin’s 10 sonatas, Chopin’s 27 etudes, Rachmaninov’s 15 études-tableaux, etc.
Rumessen is not only the foremost performer of Estonian piano music but also a musicologist with a vast knowledge of Estonian music. He has published a lot of Estonian music, by R Tobias, M Saar, E Oja and H Eller, which have naturally found a place in Rumessen’s repertoire as both soloist and ensemble player. Among other works he restored and published R Tobias’s oratorio Jonah’s Mission. In addition, Rumessen has written many articles and has served as an editor of several books about R Tobias, M Saar, A Kapp, E Oja, E Tubin and others.