Scriabin - Etude Op 42 No 4
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (also spelled Skryabin) was a Russian composer and pianist who lived from 1872 - 1915, a contemporary of Rachmaninov.
Scriabin was famous in his lifetime principally as a pianist, becoming widely known as a composer only relatively recently outside of Russia.
Scriabin wrote hundreds of piano pieces - preludes, etudes and poems. His early style was Romantic, showing the influence of Chopin, but becoming increasingly complex in texture. Scriabin was a contemporary of Rachmaninov, who is known to have played Skcriabin's music.
In his later compositions, Scriabin experimented with a composing system based on associating colour with sound, exploring new harmonies to the edge of atonality.
Scriabin was an interesting character who was influenced by theosophy, the search for truth based on mysticism and philosophy.
There is a Scriabin Society , which you may visit here.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Some students find Scriabin's music rather unapproachable harmonically and texturally, although this piece is a particularly attractive example of his work, lying appealingly under the fingers.A degree of musical sophistication is needed for a successful interpretation of Scriabin'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.
Skryabin was an interesting character - learn more here:
Style & Tempo
This etude is a study in cross-rhythms and in defining the beauty of the melodic lines. The music is, typically of Scriabin, bitter-sweet and wistful yet suffused with intensity.
Listen to the beauty of tone and expressiveness here in
Horowitz's performance of this Etude by Scriabin:
Phrasing & Articulation
Articulation is nearly always legato in this piece with the exception of some semi-legato chords in bars such as 13 and 17. These need to be played with musical shaping (the final chord quietest) and an almost-legato touch.
Although there may seem to be little difference between legato and semi-legato, the subtle change in articulation will be effective. Even when pedalled, lightly detached articulation sounds rather different from true legato.
Listen to this effect here in Paley's recording.
The LH should be smooth throughout.
Tone & Texture
This piece is melody and accompaniment in Romantic style.
Also the accompanying quavers seem almost coincidentally to have a pleasing flow that suggests an underlying melody line.
However we do not need to hear this at all prominently, merely to let the notes emerge slightly at points such as the LH Bar 38, in which the first few quavers show tenuto markings.
Listen to this subtle effect in the final part of the piece.
The technique is needed of playing cross rhythms, three against two and, in Bar 34, three against four.
Accurate, poised arpeggio playing is also required as well as the ability to project a melody line with a beautiful tone.
Do take the opportunity of studying good posture and encouraging it in both your own and in student's playing. This video of Pogorelich's posture when playing Scriabin is worth watching more than once. 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.
Fingering is not at all problematic in this etude although a few instances of RH finger changing are needed, such as in Bar 11 - use 2 then 1 on the B sharp and 12 - use 4 then 5 on the D sharp.
It makes good sense to use the LH for the bottom notes of the big RH chords in Bars 1, 5 and 9 - fortunately the LH has rests here anyway!
Legato pedalling is needed for much of this piece. The pedal needs to be depressed just after the note to be sustained has sounded, while the finger is still on the key.
This is very much a piece that must be listened to carefully to judge the pedalling since the pedal needs changing frequently, yet often a half-damped effect, in which some sound from previous notes still continues, is effective.
This is probably because most of the bars actually begin on relatively high notes for the LH so there are no hugely resonant bass notes to blur the textures.
In Bars 13, 17, 26 - 27, 37 and 41 the chords may be pedalled separately, but bear in mind these need to sound only slightly separated, not staccato.
By the time the student reaches Grade 8 level it is to be hoped that it will no longer be necessary to supervise note learning. It is more useful to give guidance as to fingering, technique and interpretation, whilst keeping a check on accuracy.
The teacher needs to provide the student with a good role model for listening before learning. If you show an interest in different interpretations in order to arrive at an individual concept of the music, then the student will also find this process fascinating.
The piece is easy to understand once it has been studied in relation to hearing it, yet it looks off-putting as a piece of sight reading.
The teacher does not need to learn to play every piece well in order to teach it - few busy teachers have sufficient time to bring each piece they teach up to a concert performance standard. All that is needed is to have made sufficient study of the music to assess the technical and musical requirements and to have experienced listening to a range of interpretations.
It is tempting not to practise this piece with separate hands since it sounds so lovely with both! However do not neglect to learn the LH. Be certain of fingering for it and look at your hand as you play to check that the arm follows the hand rather than unnecessary stretching and tension taking place.
It is more rewarding to learn each four-bar phrase thoroughly and then play with hands together than to plough through the whole piece with one hand then the other.
Time will be needed in the practice schedule for both the learning stage and for the later performance practice stage.
The key signature is likely to give a little trouble at first - it is quite challenging for some students to play with many sharps.
Be sure that the key is actually known and that related scales and arpeggios are practised first.
Careful study and a firm memory of how the piece should sound will be more effective than writing in lots of sharps as reminders.
The other potential issue is that so many students underestimate how much more the melody lines should sing out than the accompanying broken chord figures. There is a risk that the music could sound too 'busy' if the textures are not well defined.
Phrasing needs to be shaped clearly in this piece - ask the student to over-emphasise this, along with using 'too much' rubato and you will probably find that the effect is just right!
An excellent performance will give the impression that the piece is easy and almost improvisational in style. Fluency will be assured and the performer will be so enraptured with the music that there will be no room for performance anxiety to show itself. The fluid melody will be enhanced by tasteful use of rubato, all enabled by a high level of technical skill.
A good performance will be secure in notes and rhythms, with a sense of style evident in use of musical detail. Control will be mostly sufficient to give well defined melodic lines although the use of rubato may not be convincing.
A sound performance will show continuity and mostly secure accuracy, with appropriate dynamic levels. The pace may be a little on the slow side, or maybe too fast for comfortable, even control.
Listen to Horowitz play here:
Compare with this live performance by Richter:
Compare these recordings with this one by Xiaofeng Wu and incorporate the best features of each into your own interpretation.