Scriabin – Prelude Theme and the “Scriabin Leap”

25 May

I recently learned  Scriabin’s  Prelude in Eb Minor (Op.  16 No. 4).  Though not a difficult piece,  I noticed that the theme in the Eb Minor Prelude reappears in his others works.  Specifically in the Mazurka Op. 3 No. 5 in D# Minor,  Prelude Op 11. No. 2 in A Minor, and Mazurka op. 25 No. 7 in F# minor, the melodic structure as well as the rhythmic organization in these pieces appears derived from the Eb Minor prelude.

Prelude in Eb Minor Op. 16 No.4

example 1:

The Eb Minor theme emerges in the opening measures of the prelude: beginning on scale degree five (Bb), the phrase approaches the highest pitch of the theme (Db) by a third before resolving downward by a step (to the Cb) [this movement is marked by the red note heads].  At the end of the second measure, a pick-up note approaches the first beat of the third measure by a step (to the Ab) [this movement is marked by the blue note heads].   However, the focal point of the  Eb Theme is the drop from the Cb to pick-up note Eb (the drop descends by a sixth).

In the following examples, I found that it was common for Scriabin to use this sequence of four or five ascending eighth-notes to approach a climax, resolve down a step, and then follow the phrase with an elaborate downwards-leap.   This “Scriabin leap” is outlined in measure three with the purple note heads: the phrase moves upward (approaching by a third) before resolving down a step and making this giant leap (again, by a sixth)  (Cb – Bb – Eb).

Mazurka Op. 3 No. 5 D# Minor

example 2:

The mazurka contains the exact theme with slightly different rhythmic structure (not to mention the same time signature of 3/4 and the enharmonic key signatures of Eb minor and D# minor).  The theme begins again on scale degree five,  approaches the highest note by a third (C#), resolves a step down (B#), and then leaps  down by a sixth (B# – D#).   The same movement occurs in measure three (purple note heads) for the left hand.   The entire Mazurka is based off this movement (exemplified in measures 4, 6, and 7), and Scriabin intertwines these phrases seamlessly.

Prelude Op 11. No. 2 in A Minor

example 3:

Additionally, the Eb prelude theme reappears in the Prelude in A Minor.  Though revealed to the audience in a more discreet manner, we once again witness the familiar ascending and dropping movement emphasized by Eb Minor Prelude.  The highest note is approached by a fourth (instead of third), resolves down a step, and then drops a fifth (instead of a sixth).  Measures 3,4,7,8 with the green note heads illustrate this movement.

Though, one might argue that it is typical to resolve an ascending melodic line down a step, and the “Scriabin leap” is purely out of necessity (try singing an ascending line and when the highest note is reach, go a note or two higher –It feels awkward and forced doesn’t it?), I believe there is deliberation to Scriabin’s technique.  In these examples, groups of four eighth notes contain the same direction of movement as the Eb prelude theme. (i.e. eighth note 1 moves up, eighth note 2 moves up, eighth 3 is the highest, eighth 4 moves down, etc.).  Therefore, although the intervals between the notes might vary, the same melodic contour is recycled.

Mazurka op. 25 No. 7 in F# minor

example 4:

A final example of the eighth note grouping be found in the Mazurka in F# Minor.  Measure 3-4 and 7-8, illustrate the familiar arrangement of 3 ascending eights note and 1 descending eighth note (marked with green note heads) used to approach a longer note in the melody (the half note in measures 4 and 8).

I have yet to listen to all of Scriabin piano works, but am curious if this theme might reappear elsewhere.  I will keep my ears peeled!

Etude in B Major


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