For his early opuses, Alexander Scriabin’s stylistic model came from Frédéric Chopin’s music. Scriabin turned to the same circle of genres as the Polish maestro, but added his own narrative to them. The Fantasia in B Minor is one of the later examples of his dialogue with Chopin. The rich chromatic harmony and the desire for unity, washing away the boundaries between the sonata, the poem and the fantasia, herald the style of the mature Scriabin.
Along with major music forms, piano miniatures play an incredibly important role in Scriabin’s oeuvres. The cycle of three pieces, Op. 45, lasts just under three minutes. It is a collection of laconic drawings of fleeting, passing images performed with dissonant tension.
The three pieces known as Op. 31 by Nikolai Medtner are dedicated to the memory of the talented composer Alexei Stanchinsky who died young. The Improvisation that opens the cycle is a series of variations on a theme in the romantic style. The tragic moods are concentrated in the second piece in which against a background of a rhythm of a funeral procession there is a pathétique recitative. In his third piece Medtner turns to his favourite genre – the fairy-tale.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli were written after his emigration; it was to be his last work for solo piano. The cycle is based on the theme of a folia, an early Spanish dance which was used in one of 17th century Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli’s violin sonatas and which bears a resemblance to the sarabande. The twenty variations form a dialogue between styles and eras; the theme takes on features of a minuet, jazz improvisations and the romantic nocturne. The finale of the cycle is unusual – the two final variations are followed by the dramatic culmination, and then comes a quiet and peaceful coda.
is a traditional subject for music, but where Vivaldi and Haydn produced picturesque visions of the four seasons themselves Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
dedicated twelve pieces for piano to the months of the year. The composer was commissioned to write them by Nikolai Matveyevich Bernard for Nouvellist
magazine. The magazine consisted almost entirely of sheet music – works for piano and romances – and the Bernard family in St Petersburg published it for over half a century. Having just taken control of the magazine, the thirty-three-year-old Nikolai Matveyevich resolved to give it a make-over. Tchaikovsky agreed to the publisher’s proposal and in 1876 each issue of the magazine opened with a new work (“character scene”) by him together with a poetic epigraph and graphic illustration chosen by Bernard. These three art forms sat very well together! This fruitful idea was soon adopted by the Danes, who in 1881 republished works by Tchaikovsky with specially written verse by Holger Drachmann and engravings by local artists.
Tchaikovsky turned to typically romantic genres (a waltz, scherzo and barcarole) and left the publisher’s plans for “character scenes” far behind. The illustration that accompanied the piece in 1876 looks even more interesting today. It really is “scenes” in “the Russian style”. From them one can understand Bernard’s initial concept – to laud the poetry of rural life and the joys of simple folk. In the illustration for Autumn Song
women are singing as they gather hops, two young peasants meet in White Nights
and in the Barcarole an assembly glides along in a boat to the sounds of the balalaika.