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  • David Kiser

Alexander Scriabin's Piano Concerto Has The Finest Ending Of Any Concerto

I've always have been mystified by the opening of Scriabin's only attempt at the genre of piano concerto (if you don't count his other works that use the piano heavily in an orchestral setting). At first it sounds like you're getting a bit of rehashed Rachmaninoff, but it is a slight turn of phrase, recalling Chopin, that tells you somewhat ironically that this is a fresh and powerful work guided by its creator's imagination. Strange how both Rachmaninoff and Scriabin decide to use the key of F-sharp minor in their first attempts at the genre. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1 is in that key and it has an opening famous of its own: those cascading downward octaves, an homage to Grieg no doubt, but turned up to 11.

Hearing the opening piano fragment of the Scriabin is like knowing you are about to explore some hidden recesses of the human soul. There is some danger in that proposition, because what if you find something there that you don't like? I've often shut off the recording after hearing the opening. But if you manage to stay until the very end, this concerto features perhaps one of the most powerful endings of any concerto. There is not a huge build up or finger breaking displays of virtuosity. Instead we are convincingly and inevitably brought to a musical and spiritual realization. I don't want to give away what happens at the very end, but know it was unheard of for a piano concerto to...shall I say.... linger like that.

One reason for the concerto's lack of popularity might be the difficulty in learning it. It's not more difficult by any means than Rachmaninoff's concertos. But Rachmaninoff presents his musical ideas in clear blocks of musical ambition. Scriabin deals more with shadows. Just compare the two openings. Scriabin's first and then Rachmaninoff's:

I've programmed this piece for On the Keys this Thursday (May 6, 2021) at 8 pm on South Carolina Public Radio.

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