In 1896, twenty-five year-old Alexander Scriabin returned from a concert tour abroad, organized by publisher and patron Mitrofan Petrovich Belyaev, and literally in one breath wrote his only Concerto for piano and orchestra. Although he had already composed quite a lot of solo piano music, it was his first piano work which also featured an orchestra and Scriabin tackled its creation rather responsibly.
A more careful analysis of the score indicates that virtually every tact is thoroughly premeditated – a characteristic that distinguishes all subsequent scores of the composer. The concerto consists of three movements constituting a single whole, characterized by the richness of imagery, the orderliness of development, juxtaposition and dramatic treatment.
Since the most complex among varied other instrumentation problems faced by the young author laid in the relationship between the sound of the orchestra and the solo instrument, Scriabin employed different models of interaction between participant performing groups. The instrumentation of the first movement apparently requires that instruments perform in sonorities which come as a sort of continuation to the piano sound. Gradually adding its sonority to the piano, the orchestra takes it up and raises it to a powerful climax. In the second movement, written in variation form, the orchestra accompanies the piano and in the third the two vie with each other.
The music of the first movement is pervaded by deep pessimism. Scriabin chose for this movement the same key, in which also are written Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, as well as Herman’s famous arioso from Tchaikovsky’s opera Queen of Spades: F-sharp Minor. The piano part is cast in a maximalist manner – the solo instrument is hardly silent for more than twenty measures throughout the piece. The finale of the piece repeatedly projects the feel of ‘Polish accent’ – a reflection of the valiant and brilliant pages in Chopin’s music.
The melancholic episodes in Scriabin’s work were inspired by the “Tatyana Sequences”, which open Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. This concerto reveals the further development of the composer’s innovations in terms of melody, harmony and genre treatment of the work. Here is a strong manifestation of his pursuit of poematic treatment of the medium, characteristic of many of his preludes, etudes and other piano pieces.
Written in 1897, Scriabin’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was first performed on 11 (24) October of the same year in Odessa on the evening of the Symphonic Music, organized by the local Russian Music Society. The author himself was soloist, with Vassily Safonov at the conductor’s podium.
The concerto is included into the Russian music classical canon, remaining along with the concertos of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff one of its highest achievements in this genre.