On her debut album for the Naïve label, the Russian pianist Zlata Chochieva risks an unusual coupling: piano pieces by Mozart and Scriabin. In an interview, German magazine Pianist asked her what connects the two composers.
– Ms Chochieva, on your new album you combine piano works by Scriabin with pieces by Mozart. How did you come up with this idea? Do you see connections between Mozart and Scriabin?
– In most cases, Scriabin is coupled with music by romantic composers, Schumann or Chopin, because the connection between Scriabin and Chopin is quite obvious. In my opinion, however, Scriabin is also very close to the composers of the Viennese Classicism; his music is very structured, it always has a perfect form, a perfect structure. It is a combination of planning and supreme intuition. Precision, polyphony, good organization and fluency are all aspects that connect him to Mozart.
– Are there structures in Scriabin’s works that can also be found in Viennese Classicism?
– Yes. Because Scriabin likes to divide the phrases in his pieces symmetrically into 2 + 2 + 4-bar segments. That’s a very classical approach. Something else that connects him with Classicism is the length of the phrases. These are often much shorter than we usually find with Romantic composers.
– Did Scriabin ever say anything about the importance of form for his works?
– Yes. He once said that a piece of music should have a form that is ‘as perfect as a crystal’. That was the most important thing for him.
– Despite all the strict formal thinking, improvisation also plays an important role in Mozart’s music, for instance in the variations. How is it with Scriabin?
Scriabin himself stated clearly that improvisation is not something that was of great relevance to him. As he saw it, everything had to be thought out and planned. Even if his music sometimes sounds very spontaneous, it is always through-composed and nothing is left to chance. His works have a very strong structure and a clear plan. On the other hand, Mozart was very effective in the field of improvisation, especially in his variations. He designed some of his variations to work like improvisations, for example the Gluck Variations. When I was planning the present CD, I wanted to create an element of contrast. I think these variations give the programme a certain spirit. Then we have both elements: the planned and the free.
– Do you also see similarities between Mozart and Scriabin in term of sonority?
– Yes, both attach great importance to a clear sound.
– Which works by Scriabin do you associate more with Mozart? The one from his early creative period or rather his later pieces?
– If we examine Scriabin’s early work, we find that it is closer to Romanticism. The later his pieces were written, the more classical and clearer they became, which is really very interesting. I remember my first experience playing one of his late sonatas. I was fairly nervous because this music is not easy to understand, and therefore it’s hard to learn. But when you really come into contact with it, then you realize how clever the composer was, how clear the structures of his music are.
– Was Scriabin also a Romantic?
– I believe that his way of thinking in general was not Romantic, or only to a very limited extent. Scriabin showed little interest in specifically human or social issues. He was more interested in cosmic or even transcendental things. Many claim that he was a philosopher. I would say that he was very interested in philosophy and in any case he regarded himself as a thinker.
– Do Scriabin’s ideas have something transcendental about them?
– Yes. He had a bigger picture in mind – one that went beyond the emotional world of mankind. Every time I play his music, I feel as if I’m learning more about the world and existence. When you come into contact with his way of thinking, that’s a very special moment.
– Now we have spoken a lot about the rational and constructive aspect of Scriabin’s music. But, on the other hand, we also find a profound emotionality in his works, like volcanic eruptions.
– Yes, please don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t describe Scriabin’s music as intellectual; it also has a very emotional element. Sometimes his music is on the borderline of that which one would call normal, because in terms of emotions, too, he has entered a transcendental sphere.
– Words play an important role in Mozart’s music; he wrote songs and operas. How about Scriabin?
– Scriabin was very interested in words, in poetry, especially in the context of Symbolism. He explored different combinations of words and how they sounded; it wasn’t about a specific language as such, but rather just about the words and their sounds. This also inspired him when he was composing. Although Scriabin never composed for the human voice, because doing so didn’t interest him, we can safely say that his music has rhetorical qualities. In many of his works you can hear poetic rhymes. This makes the phrasing in his music clearer. Mozart certainly possessed this sense of rhyme as well.
Interview by Mario-Felix Vogt
Zlata Chochieva: Chiaroscuro (Album Trailer)