Skryabin - Prelude in D flat Op 17 No 3


Skryabin, often spelled Scriabin, was a Russian composer and pianist who lived from 1872 - 1915, a contemporary of Rachmaninov.

Here you may listen to Skryabin playing his own Prelude Op 11 No 13, a prelude similar in character to Op 17 No 3.

Pupil Match & Suitability

A degree of musical sophistication is needed for a successful interpretation of Skryabin's work. His music is generally enjoyed by students who have been immersed in a musical background for some time, such as those with parents or elder sisters and brothers who play an instrument.

The cross-rhythms of two against three may be found challenging by many students but at Grade 7 level this technique needs to be tackled eventually.

Some students find Skryabin's music rather unapproachable harmonically and texturally, although this piece is a particularly attractive example of his work, lying appealingly under the fingers.

Style & Tempo

Skryabin's style is unique - romantic and bitter-sweet, with his own distinct use of chromaticism.

The influence of Chopin's style is evident in the haunting melodic lines, the broken chord LH and the subtle dynamic changes, unsurprisingly since Skryabin favoured Chopin's music, as well as his own, as a concert pianist.

The character of this particular piece seems speak of beauty with, perhaps, longing and loss. This needs to be expressed in a muted dynamic range that almost belies the intensely felt emotion.

Lettburg's interpretation harks back an earlier fashion of playing the LH just slightly before the RH. Whilst this gives an individual sense of characterisation, more precisely co-ordination of hands is safer in an examination!

Phrasing & Articulation

Articulation needs the minimum of conscious thought, since it is simply all legato.

LH - the pedal will enable the bass notes to be sustained through the bars where necessary.

RH - In the RH it is important to achieve the legato through careful fingerwork, without undue reliance on the pedal.

The semiquavers in the section from Bar 19 - 28 need particularly careful choice of fingering to enable an effortless cascade of notes that has a natural sense of phrase that follows the melodic shapes and harmonic sequence, as in the audio example here.

Tone & Texture

Perhaps one of the best examples of achieving a beautiful tone for this piece is in the playing of Evgeny Zarafiants.

In another of Skryabin's pieces, his performance directions are 'veloute, fondue', meaning velvety and smooth, which seems to describe eloquently what is required here in tone as much as in articulation.

Notice that in the opening bars, there are held upper notes that sing a melody of their own.


It is rarely that a student has the opportunity of watching closely as a great pianist plays. Notice Pogorelich's excellent posture particularly. His back is comfortably straight and he sits at the right height for his physique.

Notice also how Pogorelich keeps his wrists at a natural angle wherever possible, always bringing his hands into a relaxed positions after any stretches. Where Finger 5 needs power, it is played with a strong hand that forms a slight arch.

It is worthwhile watching the whole of this video, since different moods of Skryabin's music are explored with each piece.


Well thought out fingering is essential particularly for the section from Bar 19 - 28.

This young pianist has the fingering well memorised, enabling a fluent performance.


The student needs to be clear that pedalling enhances the tone as well as sustaining the notes. This piece needs very careful listening to ensure that the pedal suits both the planned performance and the acoustic.

The recording limitations may be responsible in this instance, but notice how the acoustic give a boomy, over-pedalled sound here that the performer may not have intended.

Teaching Strategies

A starting point must be to introduce your student to the music of Skryabin, since his work is not universally well known.

Listening to different interpretations of this piece as well as hearing something of Skryabin's later work will help to establish a sense of style and character in context.

The piece lends itself to being tackled in phrases. Many students prefer practising the easier parts of a piece and neglect the more difficult sections so do begin the semiquaver section in good time for it to become the favourite bit, rather than the dreaded bit of the piece!

Practice Tips

The phrase 'deconstruct then reconstruct' is a useful direction for the student's practice. Comparing what is the same and what is different in each phrase will make the piece much more approachable.

Some basic analysis of the music is a great aid to the memory and makes a performance much more secure. If a slip is made and the student knows what should come next, fluency can be more easily maintained, which is essential at this level of playing.

Practice needs to be undertaken bearing in mind the musical meaning of each phrase so that the expressive pace changes are in-built rather than added on when the piece is known.


A prime area for trouble is, of course, the semiquaver section, including the RH leap at Bar 23 from Db to Bb, along with the similar leaps in the following bar.

The problem is not so much the leap itself, but getting the fingering right afterwards. Insisting on careful, consistent fingering right from the start will avoid this becoming a problem area.

Students often misunderstand the true nature of their difficulties, believing that the problem is technical when most often the issue is simply that they cannot remember quickly enough which notes to play and which fingers to use on them!

Consequently, work on memorisation will often cure what the student thought was a technical problem.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will convey the poignant character of the music with impeccable technical control enabling control and fluency. Phrasing will be supple, with convincing tempo changes and rubato, reflecting the musical direction of the piece. Pedalling will be unobtrusive, enhancing the tone as well as maintaining legato in the LH and there will be awareness of relative tone and texture.

A good performance will demonstrate a sense of style and character, with sufficient technical control to give a reasonably fluent performance. Dynamics will be varied and the tempo changes will be made although use of detail may lack the finesse and subtlety of the excellent performance.

A sound performance will be secure in continuity and something of the character will be conveyed in expressive detail. The semiquaver section may show some unevenness of control or may be too slow in relation to the rest of the piece however.

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