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A poetic approach

Eric Le Van plays
Scriabin Mazurkas -
reviewed by

'... always elegant, meticulously adjudicated, and discreetly inflected.'

Scriabin Complete Mazurkas. Eric Le Van, piano. © 2003 Music and Arts Programs of America Inc

To the technicolor imagination of the young Alexander Scriabin, the mazurka represented an especially vigorous challenge. In appropriating the form, he paid homage to Chopin, his musical idol. But for Scriabin the mazurka was also a point of artistic departure, a genre that he would continue to exploit in virtually every one of his compositions for the rest of his life. From his youthful piano concerto to the mature mysticism of Prometheus, he was enamored of the mazurka, making of it a kind of compositional calling card.

The mazurka was an invention of the Poles, which, in Chopin's hands, also became an emblem of political independence during the Russian occupation of the 1830s. Thus, there is delicious irony in its formal appropriation by the ever-so Russian Scriabin, whose prominent military family once proudly proclaimed its support, if not its overt participation in the brutal campaigns that only a few decades earlier devastated their proud southern neighbor.

Scriabin had no interest in politics, but the specificity of the mazurka's Polish origins could not have escaped him. That there were several species of the dance to begin with, which relied on various rhythmic accentuations to give emphasis to its regional character, was and remains well known to every savvy pianist. What inspired Scriabin was Chopin's vivid imagination and compositional finesse. What challenged him was the potential for reinventing the mazurka on Russian terms, translating its trochaically structured musical prosody -- so characteristic of the speech rhythms of the Polish language -- into its lush Russian equivalent. Indeed, it was the litany of fruity vowels and partisan plosives of the Russian language that inspired Musorgsky; likewise, Scriabin's manipulated hemiolas and syncopes to mimic the rhythms of his native tongue.

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Copyright © 4 January 2005 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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