Scriabin’s Fantasie in B Minor: A Dramatic Tour de Force

The story, recounted by the Russian musicologist, Leonid Sabaneyev, is so incredible that it may have been apocryphal. One day, while in Alexander Scriabin’s Moscow flat, Sabaneyev sat down at the piano and began to play a theme from Scriabin’s Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28. The composer called out from the next room, “Who wrote that? It sounds familiar.” “Your Fantasie,” was the response. “What Fantasie?”

Composed in 1900 during Scriabin’s brief tenure on the piano faculty of the Moscow Conservatory, the Fantasie in B minor for solo piano is a dramatic tour de force. It is music of epic scale, and of nearly insurmountable athletic challenges for the performer. We get the sense that a titan has sprung to life amid chords which fall like thunderbolts, sweeping lines, and multiple, passionately conversing voices. Unfolding in a single movement cast in sonata form, it embraces the high Romanticism of Liszt and Chopin, with echoes of the music of Scriabin’s contemporary, Sergei Rachmaninov. Some listeners also hear parallels with the Liebestod conclusion of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which builds harmonic tension by assiduously avoid a resolution to the tonic until the final moments.

This 1999 recording features Elisabeth Leonskaja.

Here is a recording of Sviatoslav Richter in concert in the Netherlands on October 28, 1992.