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An all-consuming
philosophical and spiritual agenda

JOHN BELL YOUNG writes in defence of Scriabin

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Mr Boulez's idea of Scriabin's music attenuates and dismisses its implicit eroticism, an eroticism that the composer himself boasted about and found a means of expressing in compositional categories. The innumerable sequences of rhythmic thrusts and surges that give shape and purpose to its immanent trajectory are nothing if sexual. By the composer's own admission, that's the entire raison d'etre of the Poeme of Ecstasy. Scriabin's very purpose, aesthetic and compositional, was not to mimic, but to duplicate sexual tension. In Scriabin Defended Against His Devotees I described it succinctly: 'Scriabin consistently demands the satisfaction of the procreative impulse, but in musical terms; harnessing the forces of musical tension with breathless intensity, he drives forward whole sequence of truncated climaxes with a cumulative rhythmic energy that simulates orgasm.'

But this idea goes considerably deeper than some tabloid notion of what sexuality means in music. The very notion of sex for Scriabin proceeded from a specific complex of aesthetic issues ascribed to and defined, in their Doctrine of Correspondences, by the Russian symbolists and the so-called Mystical Anarchists. In this context, which was in fact inspired by ancient Eastern cultural models, sex is a repository of energy, spirituality and meaning. They interpreted sexuality symbolically, as a reservoir of signifieds and signifiers. For Scriabin and his likeminded contemporaries sexual relations were an occasion for the collective expression of spiritual largesse and transcendence, looking upon it as an essentially religious, and thus ceremonial act.

Mr Boulez will have none of this. His stingy, prudish, metrically precise and rhythmically stillborn performance is remarkable for a kind of ersatz clarity that relies principally on the notes themselves. He conveniently wipes out any notion of ambiguity and fantasy, as if these elements could do nothing to enhance the music itself. Sorry to say, but Mr Boulez is as naïve and plainly unfamiliar as he is uncomfortable with Scriabin's musical universe. Without exception, his performances in all three works on this disc are dispassionate, unimaginative and cold-blooded. This is small scale, geriatric Scriabin, whose get up and go got up and went. Mr Boulez seems terrified of climax, so he simply avoids making any. His limp idea of ecstasy, for all the glories of the magnificent orchestra at his disposal, suggests the impoverished, distant memory of one who has lost his ability to know what the experience feels like. He gives us a Scriabin sorely in need of a Viagra fix.


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Copyright © 23 January 2000 John Bell Young, USA


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