Piano Sonata No. 5 (Scriabin)

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Scriabin's 5th piano sonata, op. 53, was written in 1907. It marks the end of his Middle compositional period and his transition into his later, atonal period. The piece is highly dissonant and although written in the key of F# Major it avoids the tonic chord for the entirety of the piece and has many sections that are of ambiguous tonality.

This is perhaps the most famous and played of all of Scriabin's sonatas. Legendary pianist Sviatoslav Richter is on record as saying that it is the most difficult piece in the entire piano repertoire. Other notable pianists who recorded the sonata are Vladimir Horowitz, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Samuil Feinberg, Marc-André Hamelin, and Glenn Gould.



As with all of Scriabin's subsequent sonatas, this sonata breaks the traditional three movement, fast-slow-fast format in favor of a single extended movement in sonata form. Structurally, the sonata proves a bit of a challenge to analyze. While clearly in sonata-allegro form with a definite exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda, the exposition poses a problem. Throughout the exposition, Scriabin avoids any kind of traditional tonal plan or subject groupings. Five themes are exposited:

1) The opening, dissonant trill in the lowest register of the piano. Frequent interjections from a quick keyboard glissando are heard before the pounding rhythm gives way to a quick scamper across the entire range of the piano (measures 1 -11)

2) A slow, languishing melody that introduces one of the sonatas most recognizable motifs; “G#, D#, F#, D#” (measures 12-44)

3) A dance-like presto section whose theme is previously hinted in measure 45. (Measures 47 - 67)

4) A frantic section marked “Imperioso” (Pompous) introducing another principal motif; a descending minor major 7th chord (C#, F, A, A#) (96-113).

5) A second languishing theme that seemingly always tries to escape and pull out of the murk before being pulled back down by a descending chromatic line; also introducing one final motive (G, Gb, G, D). (Measures 119 - 139)

The exposition lasts from roughly measures 1 - 157.

The development lasts from measures 157 - 328.

The recapitulation lasts from measures 329 - 400.

The coda lasts from measures 401 - 456.