the harmonic & melodic language in alexander scriabin's sonata no. 5, op. 53

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The Harmonic and Melodic Language in Alexander Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 Steven Zydek Music Theory II – MUSI 3500 Dr. Janners 4/28/2010

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An in depth analysis of Alexander's Scriabin's Fifth Sonata, regarded as a point of departure for Scriabin from tonal to atonal works. This analysis mostly focuses on the thematic and formal aspects of the sonata. References to other critical & scholarly works are also made with regard to academic analysis. This paper also contains an overview of Scriabin's "mystic chord" and its use in motives.


The Harmonic and Melodic Language in Alexander Scriabin's Sonata No. 5, Op. 53

Steven Zydek

Music Theory II MUSI 3500 Dr. Janners 4/28/2010

Through the progression of Alexander Scriabin's (b. 1872) ten piano sonatas (completed between 1892 and 1913), we hear this Russian Composer's movement from Romantic, Chopin-esque influences to a highly developed individualized compositional style. In making this progression, there is no doubt among scholars that Scriabin's own developing Theosophical beliefs were a major influence.1 Another influencing factor may have been related to Scriabin's own admission of experiencing synesthesia in how he supposedly "heard colors" and even related the sonorities of different musical keys to certain color hues.2 Regardless of the influences, it's apparent that during the time that Scriabin composed his sonatas, Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (1907) represents a turning point in which he made a significant shift away from traditional functional harmony toward a harmonic language all of his own. This paper will look at the main themes in Sonata No. 5 and attempt to analyze the melodic and harmonic framework of Scriabin's emerging musical language. When discussing pitch collections and class sets, Allen Fortes set names will be used as much as possible to help relate sets to one another.3 Prior to doing any melodic or harmonic analysis, it will be important to understand the overall formal structure of this sonata. Table 1 in the Appendix outlines the overall structure and will be referenced when discussing specific thematic material. Written as one movement, the entire sonata is ordered according to the traditional formal sections of exposition, development and recapitulation with an introduction and coda, as shown in the Formal Section column of Table 1. After a brief excerpt of verses from his Poem of Ecstasy, Scriabins Sonata No. 5 opens with a quick introductory theme (Intro Th. A). We see that the opening has an expressive tempo marking (Allegro. Impetuoso. Con stravaganza.) and a key signature (F# major) that eventually raises some curiosity.4 The key signature is curious in that it soon becomes apparent that Scriabin is not operating within the traditional framework of F# major (or D# minor) diatonic harmony. A superficial, yet telling sign of this can be seen in that although the key signature signifies six sharps, pitches E# and A# are consistently marked with natural accidentals throughout the introduction. Thus, if a major or minor harmonic framework were employed, it would more likely be that of E major.1

Barany-Schlauch, Elizabeth Anna. "Alexander Scriabin's Ten Piano Sonatas: Their Philosophical Meaning and Its Musical Expression." (Ph.D., diss., Ohio State University, 1985), 13-14.2

Vanechkina, B. M. Galeyev, and I. L. Vanechkina. "Was Scriabin a Synesthete?" Leonardo. 34, no. 4 (2001), 357361.3

Forte, Allen. The Structure of Atonal Music. New Haven: Yale, 1973.


Scriabin, Alexander. Alexander Scriabin: Selected Piano Works. Edited by Gnter Philipp. Vol. 5. Leipzig: Edition Peters, 1971. 1

Pitches D# and A natural, a tritone interval, play a significant role in establishing the tonal framework with their frequent occurrence as the lowest pitches in the bass tremolo figure, yet no traditional cadences or dominant functions resolve to tonic chords based on these pitches. E major doesnt help much in explaining the harmonic structure other than by perhaps perceiving the D# as a sort of leading tone to E (tonic) and the prominent use of A as being the subdominant. Instead, the melodic figures and harmonic structures in the introduction, and throughout the entire sonata as well see, are better explained as working within certain pitch class sets. The entire Intro Th. A is based on the pitch class sets shown in the following table:

Desc. / Forte Number (measures) Together pcset 7-35 (mm. 1-12) Bass Tremelo Figure pcset 3-5 Glissando Pentachord 1 / pcset 5-24 Glissando Pentachord 2 / pcset 5-27

Intro Th. A Pitch Class Sets Normal Ordered Pitch Collection Normal (Reduced) Form / Prime Form (D#,E,F#,G#,A,B,C#) (0,1,3,5,6,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,6,8,10) (D#,E,A) (0,1,6) / (0,1,6) (D#,E,A,B,C#) (G#,A,C#,E,F#) (0,1,6,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,7) (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8)

In looking at the pitch collections (pcset 7-35 contains the entire pitch collection for Intro Th. A), its confirmed that all the pitches together form a heptatonic scale that correlates exactly to E major. With D# having a strong presence in the lower voice, the usage might be thought to be tied to the Locrian mode, yet with a lack of a real resolution to D#, this correlation is not convincing. Instead it might be better to think of the D# as continually leading to the trilled E as to reinforce E as the tonal center for this part of the intro. The Tremelo Bass figure is based on a tritone (diminished fifth) relationship between D# and A with an E (perfect fifth above A) which creates a quintal figure (Q) and is used when the glissandos are sounded in the upper voice (right hand part). Interestingly, this pitch class set (0,1,6) or pcset 3-5 was favored by other modern, 20th century composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern to create dissonance and was even referred to as the Viennese Trichord, referring to the Second Viennese School.5 This dissonance helps reinforce the frenetic nature of the introductory theme. Both glissandos in the upper voice are based on pentatonic sets or pentachords. The first glissando contains pitches E,A,B,C#,D# (pcset 5-24) and the second glissando figure contains A,C#,E,F#,G# (pcset 5-27),5

Martin, Henry. "Seven Steps to Heaven: A Species Approach to Twentieth-Century Analysis and Composition." Perspectives of New Music 38, no. 1 (Winter, 2000), 149,154. 2

which are important to this sonata as we shall see later. When we put these pitches together, its clear that the motivic figures (Glissando Pentachords 1 & 2) together themselves are derived exactly from the E major scale. When considering the downbeats of these two angular motives, there does appear to be an implicit circle of fourth/fifth relationship between them with the D# from the lower voice (left hand part) leading to the E in Glissando Pentachord 1. It should also be noted that the (0,1,6) set (pcset 3-5) is part of Pentachord 1. The circle of fourth/fifth relationship between the downbeats of these figures helps build tonal connectivity amidst the dissonance created by the (0,1,6) pitch class set in the lower voice. This point is reinforced by the fact that no D# exists during the instances of Pentachord 2, as can be seen at the second beat of measure 7 and similarly in later measures. While Baker similarly accounts for a V-I relationship in E major (or V6/5/V-V-I in A major)6, Wise correctly emphasizes that the key center is not clear.7 All of this gives a good introduction not only to the sonata, but also to Scriabins own emerging harmonic language by intermingling traditional relationships (i.e., loose circle progressions & leading tones) with new ones (i.e., the steady (0,1,6) pitch class set and unusual key signature usage). The introduction ends suddenly in a measure of silence at m. 12 as if the two figures were chasing each other around and suddenly ran out of breath. Marked Languido, the Intro Theme Group B begins at m. 13 and ends at m. 46. It evokes an open, lethargic feeling of desperation for some seemingly, unreachable goal. When considering the harmonic nature of this theme group, we can see how this material is connected to Group A, and how the open sound is maintained. Measures 13-18 are linked to m. 11 of Group A with the consistent presence of E natural in the lower voice and the presence of D# and G# in the upper voice, and work within the following pitch class sets: Set / Subset Name Together pcset 5-24 (mm. 13-17) Together pcset 6-Z26 (mm. 13-18) Melodic Motive pcset 3-7 (mm. 13-14) Intro Th. B Pitch Class Sets Normal Ordered Pitch Normal (Reduced) Form / Collection Prime Form (if applicable) (D#,E,F#,G#,A#) (0,1,3,5,7) (D#,E,F#,G#,A#,B) Pcset 5-24 now includes B (D#,F#,G#) (0,1,3,5,7,8) (0,3,5) / (0,2,5)


Baker, James M. The Music of Alexander Scriabin. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986), 175.


Wise, Herbert Harold, Jr. "The Relationship of Pitch Sets to Formal Structure in the Last Six Piano Sonatas of Scriabin." (Ph.D. diss., University of Rochester, 1987), 127. 3

It should be noted that though a B natural is not sounded until m. 18, pcset 5-24 contains pitches derived from the B Major scale, lacking the second scale degree (C#), which aligns it with the prime form of the pcset for Glissando Pentachord 1 (0,1,3,5,7) or pcset 5-24. This shows an intervallic connection through inversion to Intro Th. A, and proves to be an important set throughout Intro Th. B. The pitches from the main two-bar phrase used to open the theme might be considered as being derived from a dominant F#13th chord (mm. 13-14) with the D# doubled an octave apart in the upper voice and an A# as the lowest pitch (m. 14). With this, as with the introductory material for Group A, we can see that the harmonic arrangement of Intro Th. B is by no means traditional, especially given the strong presence of a tritone (E-A#) in the lower voice and an extended dominant chord as tonic. The B natural sounded in the upper voice of m. 18 hints at resolving the F#9 chord of m. 17, but suddenly slips into a chromatic ascension (B#-D) in m. 19, which then leaps a tritone interval to a G# sounded in the upper voice an octave higher than the G# already sounded below. To stress this chromatic tension, a descending chromatic line is sounded simultaneously in the lower voice beginning in m. 18 from D#-B# (m.20). Together, these chromatic lines create a sense of unraveling, as if the two chromatic lines were literally pulling away at each other, rather than leading to any sense of harmonic resolution. Aside from the short chromatic line in the lower voice (which includes a C# that aligns with the upper voice an octave higher and is repeated in mm. 23-24), mm. 19-25 reveals an underlying whole tone scale with the following pitch class set information: Forte Number (measures) Together pcset 6-35 (mm. 19-25) Normal Ordered Pitch Collection (A#,B#,D,E,F#,G#) Normal (Reduced) Form / Prime Form (if applicable) (0,2,4,6,8,10)

We can discern an alternation between two pitch class sets (pcset 5-24 & pcset 6-35) with interwoven chromatic lines until m. 40, where Scriabin introduces material harmonically derived from a series of three dominant 13th chords (Hung perceives: Ab13, G13, & C#13)8, though the chords are non-functional and thus do not resolve to a tonic chord as one might expect in m. 45. Measure 45 instead offers a passage of three triadic chords in the upper voice (a second inversion B major chord, a second inversion D# major chord and a D# major chord in root position). This is composed over a bass figure written in hemiola rhythm (with four quarter-notes against six eighth-notes) as a preview of whats to come in the formal exposition. Harmonically, the bass figure provides no traditional support for the upper voice, except that pitches B and D# are also sounded a minor sixth


Hung, Chia-Sui. "Tradition and Innovation in Four Piano Sonatas of the First Quarter of the Twentieth Century." (Ph.D diss., University of Cincinnati, 2003), 16 4

interval apart. All the pitches in m. 45 (A#, B, C#, D#, F#, G#) fit into a C#13th chord9, but since this chord is followed by a measure of silence with no key center, its difficult to recognize a traditional half-cadence and thus somewhat irrelevant to use the traditional chord references in our analysis. It doesnt help that to truly be a dominant C# chord there would technically need to be an E# (major third) present as part of our collection to complete the basic triadic dimension of the dominant chord. Interestingly, Scriabin has continually marked all E#s with natural accidentals up this point. Perhaps its more meaningful to continue looking directly at tonal relationships within the pitch collections and see what is emphasized as consonant or dissonant. When we look at the harmonic material of mm. 40-45 in terms of pcsets, we see the following.

Forte Number (measures) Together pcset 5-35 (mm. 40-41) Together pcset 6-32 (mm. 42-43) Together pcset 6-32 T(6) (mm. 44-45)

Normal Ordered Pitch Collection (Db,Eb,F,Ab,Bb) (F,G,A,C,D,[E]) T(8) lower than 5-35 (B,C#,D#,F#,G#,[A#])

Normal (Reduced) Form / Prime Form (0,2,4,7,9) or (1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,7,9) (0,2,4,7,9,[11]) or ([0],1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,2,4,7,9,[11]) or ([0],1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9)

By these collections, we can see that the pcset 5-35 present in mm. 40-41 basically expands out to a new pcset 6-32 in mm. 42-43, only transposed a minor sixth (or T(8)) lower. Measures 44-45 contain the same pcset 6-32 transposed a tritone (or T6) higher than the previous occurrence. This analysis approach will become more important as we analyze the formal exposition. Though it may be noteworthy to see how traditional chord formations are still present to some degree in this harmonically transitional sonata, pitch class sets are perhaps more helpful in explaining the procedures Scriabin used to compose this and his later sonatas.

Exposition The formal exposition begins with a spirited Main Theme 1 which can be broken into two parts: Subject Group A (Th. 1A) and Subject Group B (Th. 1B). Theme Group A is defined in mm. 47-95. As Hung points out, Theme Group A can also be broken into three sub-phrases (mm. 47-52, 53-58 and 59-67) with a four beats against six beats hemiola rhythm occurring in the first and second sub-phrases.10 The sub-phrases are repeated again in mm. 68-95 and in this instance, the last sub-phrase (mm. 80-95) serves as a transition to Th. 1B. Th. 1B can be found in mm. 96-119 with transitional material occurring from mm. 114-119.9

Ibid., 16Ibid., 17



If we were to look at the upper voice of the beginning of Main Theme 1 from a perspective of traditional harmony, we would find different inversions of simple triads moving between B Major, D# Major and G# Minor in mm. 47-52 and E Major, G# Minor and C# Minor in mm. 53-58. The relationship between these triads can be heard as traditional harmonic forms given the fact that they come directly from the B Major/G# Natural Minor diatonic scale. However, when we consider the lower bass figure against these triads, the harmonic dimension is given a greater depth of tonal color, especially since Scriabin seems to gravitate toward a quintal arrangement of the lower pitches, which reinforce an open, more ambiguous sound. The consistent C# sounded as the lowest note gives the tones in mm. 47-52 an extended dominant quality (specifically, a dominant C#13th (omit 3rd, due to the missing E#) and creates a new tonal center of C#. With the C# and E (which replaces the previously stated D#) in mm. 53-57, the quintal bass arrangement is augmented but interestingly this now reinforces an extended C# minor 9th chord.

The harmonic outline in mm. 47-67 is derived from a non-functional progression using subdominants of F# (mm. 47-52), B (mm. 53-58), E (mm. 59-60), Eb (mm. 61-62), D (mm. 63-64) and N6/V of F# (mm. 65-67).11 Though the harmonic relationships can be explained in this fashion and it is interesting to note how the progression follows subdominants of keys according to a circle of fourth progression until the subdominant of Eb, when the progression becomes chromatic, perhaps a more useful explanation can be found when observing how the tones for each of the sub-phrases fit into pitch class sets, as weve done before. We can then more accurately consider how these sets relate to each other. The following table contains the pitch information for mm. 47-67. Main Th. 1A (sub-phrases mm. 47-67) Pitch Class Sets Desc. / Forte Number (measures) Normal Ordered Pitch Normal (Reduced) Form / Collection Prime Form (if applicable) Upper voice pcset 5-27 (A#,B,D#,F#,G#) (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) (mm. 47-52) Lower voice pcset 4-22 (B,C#,D#,G#) (0,2,4,9) / (0,2,4,7) /11

Ibid., 16-17


(mm. 47-52) Together pcset 6-32 (mm. 47-52) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(5) (mm. 53-58) Lower voice pcset 4-26 (mm. 53-58) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(5) (mm. 59-60) Lower voice pcset 3-11 (mm. 59-60) Upper voice pcset 6-32 T(8) (mm. 61-62) Lower voice pcset 420 (mm. 61-62) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(10) (mm. 63-64) Lower voice pcset 3-11 (mm. 63-64) Upper voice pcset 7-32 (mm. 65-67) Voices grouped together every 3 beats pcsets 4-20 T(4) & 4-19 (mm. 65-67) (A#,B,C#,D#,F#,G#) (D#,E,G#,B,C#) (B,C#,E,G#) (G#,A,C#,E,F#) (A,C#,E) (D,Eb,F,G,Bb,C) (D,Eb,G,Bb) (F#,G,B,D,E) (G,B,D) (E#,F#,G#,A,B,C#,D) (F#,G,B,D) & (G#,A,C#,E#)

NOTE: C# added, other pitches emphasized (0,1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) Transposed P4 (0,2,5,9) / (0,3,5,8) Subset of upper voice (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) (0,4,7) / (0,3,7) Subset of upper voice (A major triad) (0,1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,1,5,8) / (0,1,5,8) Subset of upper voice (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) Transposed m7/M2 (0,4,7) / (0,3,7) Subset of 4-20 in m. 65 (0,1,3,4,6,8,9) / (0,1,3,4,6,8,9) *(F# harmonic minor) (0,1,5,8) & (0,1,5,9) / (0,1,5,8) & (0,1,4,8)

By looking at this table, we can see that the pcset 5-27 (0,1,5,8,10) is vital in connecting the harmonic material for all of the phrases in mm. 47-64. When comparing the sub-phrases, it becomes clear that Scriabin chose pitches of set intervals and transposed them up a perfect 4th (T(5)) in mm. 53-58 and then from there another T5 in mm. 59-60. The first five pitches in the pitch class set for mm. 61-62 appear to be derived directly from the prime set of the previous sub-phrase, which is an inversion of the normal form of pcset 5-27. Measures 63-64 again contain the exact same intervals as the previous sub-phrases, but transposed a Major 2nd lower than mm. 59-60. Measures 65-67 link to the second group of sub-phrases using pitches derived from the F# Harmonic Minor scale. The pitches in the second group of sub-phrases have been ordered into sets in the table below.

Main Th. 1, Group B (sub-phrases mm. 68-79) & Transition (mm. 80-95) Pitch Information Desc. / Forte Number Normal Ordered Pitch Collection Normal (Reduced) Form / (measures) Prime Form (if applicable) Upper voice pcset 5-27 (A#,B,D#,F#,G#) (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) (mm. 68-73) Lower voice pcset 4-23 (C#,D#,F#,G#) (0,2,5,7) / (0,2,5,7) 7

(mm. 68-73) Together pcset 6-32 (mm. 68-73) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(5) (mm. 74-79) Lower voice pcset 4-23 T(10) (mm. 74-79) Together pcset 6-32 T(5) (mm. 74-79) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(5) (mm. 80-83) Together pcset 6-32 (mm. 80-83) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(2) (mm. 84-87) Together pcset 7-35 (mm. 84-87) Upper voice pcset 5-27 T(4) (mm. 88-91) (-4/m6) Together pcset 6-32 (mm. 88-91) Upper voice pcset 9-7 (mm. 92-93) Lower voice pcset 8-10 (mm. 92-93) Together pcset 6-32 T(0) (m. 92) Together pcset 5-34 (m. 93) Together pcset 420 (mm. 94-95)

(A#,B,C#,D#,F#,G#) (D#,E,G#,B,C#) (B,C#,E,F#) (D#,E,F#,G#,B,C#) (G#,A,C#,[D#],E,F#) []=NT (G#,A,B,C#,[D#],E,F#) []=NT (A#,B,D#,[E#],F#,G#) []=NT (A#,B,C#,D#,E#,F#,G#) (F#,G,B,D,E) (F#,G,A,B,D,E) (D,Eb,E,F,F#,G,A,B,C) Increasingly chromatic (D,Eb,E,F,F#,G,A,C) Increasingly chromatic (F#,G,A, B, D, E) Eb,F,G,A,C (C#,D,F#,A) D Maj 7

(0,1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,1,5,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) (0,2,5,7) / (0,2,5,7) (0,1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,1,5,[7],8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) (0,1,3,5,[7],8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,1,5,[7],8,10) / (0,1,3,5,8) (0,1,3,5,7,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,6,8,10) F# Major (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,1,2,3,4,5,7,9,10) / (0,1,2,3,4,5,7,8,10) (0,1,2,3,4,5,7,10) / (0,2,3,4,5,6,7,9) (0,1,3,5,8,10) / (0,2,4,5,7,9) (0,2,4,6,9) (0,1,5,8)

Upon closer analysis of the sets, we can see that the harmonic material making up the second group of sub-phrases is derived from the same sets as the previous group, only now with increasing number of passing & neighbor tones as depicted with brackets ([]) in the sets. In general, these tones show a tendency toward chromaticism which is more fully realized if we look at all the pitches together in mm 92-93 before one more obvious use of a D Maj 7 subset (pcset 4-20) of pitches from pcset 5-27 in mm. 94-95 before moving to Group B of Main Theme 1. The brief Group B of Main Theme 1 (Th. 1B) begins at m. 96 and ends at m. 113. Measures 114-119 serve as a transition to Main Theme 2 (Th. 2), to be discussed next. In m. 96, the upper voice states a memorable motive which descends by minor sixth intervals (8 half-steps), while the lower voice contains motion in minor seventh, perfect eighth (octave) and tritone intervals. The minor seventh interval proves to be important 8

throughout Th. 1B, both in this main motive and in the surrounding material, as we shall see. The first statement of this motive can be seen in mm. 96-97 and is shown below.

Written in 6/8 time, a sparsely written three note figure descends by minor sixth intervals beginning on the second beat. On the fourth beat, dissonance is created with the clashing notes of a double-sharp-G sounding against an octave of G# notes in the lowest voice for part of its duration. The tension is released through a halfstep motion in the upper figure after the G-double-sharp is sounded for six beats, half of which are in the next measure (m. 97) with the entire duration divided by tritone motion in the lower voice (i.e., the upbeat of m.96 to downbeat of m. 97). Measures 100-101 and mm. 104-105 are all related and can be explained with the pitch class set information in the following table.

PC Sets for main motive of Th. 1B Desc / Forte Number (measures) Normal Ordered Pitch Collection Upper voice pcset 4-19 T(1) (GX(A),A#,C#,E#) (mm. 96-97) relates to mm. 65-67 Lower voice pcset 3-8 (F#,G#,B#,[C#]) (mm. 96-97) []=replaced by B# Together pcset 7-Z37 (G#,GX(A),A#,B#,[C#],E#,F#) (mm. 96-97) Upper voice pcset 4-19 T(5) (CX(D),D#,F#,A#) (mm. 100-101) Lower voice pcset 3-8 T(0) (F#,G#,B#) (mm. 100-101) Together pcset 6-34 (CX(D),D#,F#,G#,A#,B#) (mm. 100-101) Mystic Chord Set Upper voice pcset 4-19 T(1) (D#,E,G,B) (mm. 104-105) Lower voice pcset 3-8 T(1) (G,A,C#) 9

Normal (Reduced) Form / Prime Form (if applicable) (0,1,4,8) / (0,1,4,8) (0,2,6,[7]) / (0,2,6) (0,1,2,4,5,9,10) / (0,1,3,4,5,7,8) (0,1,4,8) / (0,1,4,8) (0,2,6) / (0,2,6) (0,1,4,6,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,7,9) (0,1,4,8) / (0,1,4,8) (0,2,6) / (0,2,6)

(mm. 104-105) Together pcset 6-34 T(1) (mm. 104-105)

(D#,E,G,A,B,C#) Mystic Chord Set

(0,1,4,6,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,7,9)

From this table, we can see the prevalence of the minor sixth interval (0-8) in the upper voice and tritone in the lower voice (0-6). Another point of interest is the appearance of the pcset 6-34, which includes the pitch material from Scriabins infamous Mystic Chord12. When looking at the sets that make up the measures surrounding the thematic material just described, we can see how they also support the material harmonically.

PC Sets of phrases surrounding the main motive of Th. 1B (described above) Desc / Forte Number (measures) Normal Ordered Pitch Normal (Reduced) Form / Collection Prime Form (if applicable) Together pcset 4-25 (C,D,[E#],F#,Ab) (0,2,[5],6,8) (mm. 98-99) Fr6 Set [] = Tension Creating NT Together pcset 5-34 (D,E,[E#],F#,G#,B) (0,2,[3],4,6,9) (mm. 102) Dominant-ninth [] = NT Together pcset 4-24 (G#,Bb,C,E) (0,2,4,8) (m. 103) Augmented 7th Together pcset 4-24 T(3) (Db,Eb,[E],[F],G,B) (0,2,[3],[4],6,10) / (0,2,4,8) (m. 106 & 108) Fr6 [] = NT & whole tones shift Together pcset 4-25 T(7) (G,A,[B#],C#,Eb) (0,2,[5],6,8) (m. 107 & 109) Fr6 [] = NT Together pcset 4-24 T(2) (Eb,F,[F#],[G],A,C#) (0,2,[3],[4],6,10) / (0,2,4,8) th (m. 110) Augmented 7 [] = NT Together pcset 4-25 (A,B,[D],D#,F) (0,2,[5],6,8) (m. 111) Fr6 [] = NT Together pcset 4-20 (D,Eb,G,[A],Bb,) (0,1,5,[7],8) / (0,1,5,8) (m. 112) Major-seventh [] = NT Together pcset 4-20 T(0) (D, Eb,[F#],G, Bb ) (0,1,[4],5,8) / (0,1,5,8) (m. 113-114) Major-seventh [] = NT Together pcset 5-34 T(8) (Bb,C,D,E,[F],[F#],G) (0,2,4,6,[7],[8],9) (mm. 116 -119) Though the material surrounding the main motive of Th. 1B doesnt have strong motivic or melodic figures, we can see by set analysis that the tritone, minor sixth & minor seventh intervals continue to play a strong role in the prevalence of pcsets 4-20, 4-24 & 4-25 (note also that 4-25 contains the pitches of a French Sixth Chord). When considering the high frequency of even numbers in the sets (odd numbers are typically neighbor tones in sets with mostly even numbers), its clear that Scriabin relied upon Whole Tone scales for


Wise, "The Relationship of Pitch Sets to Formal Structure in the Last Six Piano Sonatas of Scriabin, 146-147


tonal structure and added neighbor tones to increase tension. The whole tone scale appears to shift by its limited transposition a semitone between mm. 103 & 106, coincidentally where a key signature change (to Bb Major) occurs for the first time in the sonata. As with the main motive, the adjacent measures, outlined above, also make up one sub-phrase each (i.e., 98-99 is one sub-phrase just as mm. 96-97 is one sub-phrase). For the sake of realizing the sets more clearly, they have been separated to draw tonal cohesion, but in reality the paired measures are actually tied together with the second bars including a direct shift in parallel by different intervals. When looking at an example sub-phrase more closely, we can see how the tritone and minor sixth intervals work in moving the piece forward. These same motions exist in mm. 103, 109, & 111 as shown in the example below from m. 106.

The minor seventh interval (0,10) proves to be important in uniting the surrounding phrases just described with the underlying tonality of the main theme motive (i.e., mm. 96-97). When we trace these intervals and look vertically for major third intervals amidst the minor seventh interval, we can see that Scriabin was most likely using non-functional dominant chords to unite this material. From mm. 97-111, we recognize a series of non-functional dominant chords that move by intervals of Minor sixth, tritone and Perfect fourth:

Progress by Tritone: Progress by Minor Sixth: Progress by Tritone: Progress by Minor Sixth: Progress by Perfect Fourth:

G#9 (m.97) -> D9 (mm. 98-99) -> G#9 (m. 100-101) (G#9 (m. 100-101)) -> E9 (m. 102) -> C9 (m. 103) -> A9 (m. 104) A9 (m. 104) -> Eb9 -> A7#9 (Fr6) (Eb9-A7 repeats in mm. 106-109) (A9 (m. 109)) -> F9 (m. 110) (F9 (m. 110)), B9 (Fr6) (m. 111)

Measure 112 changes this basic progression and instead concludes the previous theme group with material making up a G minor sixth chord, again emphasizing the minor sixth interval. It would seem that Scriabin was using some devices of traditional harmony in this section without giving into any traditional harmonic function or resolve. A six bar transition (or link) follows (mm. 114-119) beginning with the same 11

harmonic material from mm. 112-113 using the same bass motive as the opening Th. 1B phrase. The prominent chord beginning m. 116 contains pitches (Bb, C, D, E, G ( pcset 5-34)) that make up a C9 chord. These pitches are used with the addition of F & F# to take us to Main Theme 2 (Th. 2) in m. 120 where an interval of minor seventh appears to have significance again in the bass voice using F as the lowest pitch, thus having a common element with the previous thematic material. Main Theme 2 (Th. 2) is mostly composed of a four bar phrase, first occurring in mm. 120-123 which interweaves whole tone and chromatic scales. Scriabin puts forth an open sounding whole tone chord made up of pitch collection (Eb,F,G,A) or (0,2,4,6) and then dabbles with chromaticism using neighbor tone F# until m. 121 when the whole tone structure comes apart with an 11-tone chromatic descension covering tones G-A. The missing Ab is sounded as the fifth beat in alto voice of m. 121 as a neighbor tone to the previously sounded Anaturals. The chromatic descension leads to an intriguing vertical structure in m. 122 arranged in a quartal/quintal fashion. When we collect the pitches for this structure we find a whole tone collection (Eb,F,G,A,Cb) or pcset (0,2,4,6,8) written in a quartal/quintal fashion. The Db that arrives at the second beat of m. 122 further confirms the whole tone scale by completing the set (0,2,4,6,8,10). These whole tone sonorities are used to complete the phrase in m.122-123 with D natural as a sort of neighbor tone.

This four-bar phrase is basically repeated verbatim in mm. 124-127 with minor changes. In short, the first Eb in the upper voice is replaced with a short chromatic run (C#-Eb). Note that the C# is a tritone below the G sounded above. Measure 126 is changed slightly when compared to m. 122 in that the highest G replaced what used to be a F-natural. These vertical structures basically make up the entirety of the harmonic material for the second half of the Th. 2 four bar phrase. Its therefore useful to look at the pitch collections directly and compare the sets, as shown below.


Desc. / Forte Number (measures) Upper melody pcset 4-16 (mm. 120-121) Together pcset 6-35 (m. 122-123) Upper melody pcset 4-16 T(0) (mm 124-125) Together pcset 6-35 T(0) (m. 126-127) Upper melody pcset 4-16 T(5) (mm 128-129) Together pcset 6-34 (mm 130-131) Together pcset 5-33 (m.132) Together pcset 5-16 (m. 133) Upper melody pcset 4-16 (m. 134-135) Together pcset 6-34 T(7) (mm. 136-137) Together (mm. 138-139)

Normal Ordered Pitch Collection (F#,G ,C,D) (Eb,F,G,A,Cb,Db,[D]) (F#,G ,C,D) (Eb,F,G,A,Cb,Db,[D]) (B,C,F,G)

Normal (Reduced) Form / Prime Form (0,1,6,8) / (0,1,5,7) (0,2,4,6,8,10) (0,1,6,8) / (0,1,5,7) (0,2,4,6,8,10) (0,1,6,8) / (0,1,5,7)

(D,Eb,F#,Ab,Bb,C) (0,1,4,6,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,7,9) Mystic Chord Set (G,A, B,C#,D#) (0,2,4,6,8) (F,F#,A,D,Eb) (0,1,4,9,10) / (0,1,3,4,7) (F#,G,C,D) (0,1,6,8) (A,Bb,Db,Eb,F,G) (0,1,4,6,8,10) / (0,1,3,5,7,9) Mystic Chord Set Begins like m. 134, yet melody line is same as mm. 128-129 and chromatic descent is D-Eb). Note that descent now contains all tones and raised T(5) from m. 135.

It doesnt take long to see the intersection of whole tone and chromatic structures that are intertwined in Th. 2. Its interesting to see how amidst all of this, the recurring chromatic lines descend to a minor seventh (ten steps), until the last statement in m. 139, when all tones (D-Eb) are sounded. An important recurring set in Th. 2 is that of pcset 6-34. The pitches in this set are what make up Scriabins Mystic Chord. There has been some debate regarding the origin of this set in how Scriabin conceived of it, but most accounts suggest that there was some Theosophical motivation behind its contents. From an analytical perspective, some scholars suggest that the tones were derived from the upper partials of the overtone series, while others believe that Scriabin conceived of the set through exploring sets of six notes separated at different quartal intervals (i.e., perfect & diminished).13 As Wagners Tristan Chord gained notoriety through its use in Tristan und Isolda, the Mystic Chord was first recognized as a driving harmonic device in Scriabins Prometheus Op. 60 and is also referred to as the Prometheus Chord.14 The codetta is sparked into motion through a brief link in 2/4 time that occurs in mm. 140-142. This link puts forward a jerky rhythm as if to imply a series of nervous attempts at a new start only giving into silence at13

Baker, James M. The Music of Alexander Scriabin. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986): 99 Ibid., 99 13


m. 142 (and is again emphasized in the coda section of the sonata). The silence of m. 142 is soon interrupted with the codetta again in 6/8 time which closes out the formal exposition section of the sonata. When looking at the upper voice of the codetta, its clear that its connected both to the link material in mm. 140-142 and the Th. 1A simply by taking note of the familiar upper triadic figures. When we look at the pitch class sets that make up the harmonic framework of the codetta, this is confirmed in that they are derived from the same pcset 5-27 and transposed to various degrees, ending with a series of tritone transpositions, as shown below.

Desc / Forte Number (measures) Upper pcset 5-27 (m. 143) Upper pcset 5-27 T(7) (m. 144) Upper pcset 5-27 T(3) (m. 145) Upper pcset 5-27 T(6) (m. 146) Upper pcset 5-27 T(4) (m. 147) Upper pcset 5-27 T(7) (m. 148) Upper pcset 5-27 T(3) (m. 149-150) Upper pcset 5-27 T(6) (m. 151-152) Upper pcset 5-27 T(6) (m. 153-154) Upperpcset 5-27 T(6) (m. 155-156)

Normal Ordered Pitch Collection (F,Gb,Bb,Db,Eb) (C,Db,F,Ab,Bb) (Eb,Fb,Ab,Cb,Db) (A,Bb,D,F,G) (F,Gb,Bb,Db,Eb) (C,Db,F,Ab,Bb) (Eb,Fb,Ab,Cb,Db) (A,Bb,D,F,G) (Eb,Fb,Ab,Cb,Db) (A,Bb,D,F,G)

Normal (Reduced) Form / Prime Form (if applicable) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10) (0,1,5,8,10)

As Table 1 in the Appendix shows, the exposition proper ends after the codetta (mm. 140-156) and the development section, having two parts, is contained in mm. 157-328. There are obvious restatements of the introductory material therein. Most of the material that comprises the development section is derived from material in the exposition, only transposed to various degrees and sometimes given variation treatments. A unique quartal voicing of the Mystic Chord appears in m. 264. There are contrasting juxtapositions of Allegro fantastico (from the codetta) and Meno vivo (Th. 2) in mm. 281-288) and significant variation added to the Th. 2 material in mm. 313-328. The recapitulation occurs in mm. 329-400 with pcset 5-27. The entire recapitulation is almost an exact copy of the exposition except that the sub-phrases derived from Th. 1A only occur once (mm. 329-348) with slight variations and transposed a perfect fifth interval lower (or T(5) (perfect fourth) higher). This transposition is easily recognized when comparing the pitch material of pcset 5-27 from the exposition (mm. 47-52, (A#,B,D#,F#,G#)) to (D#,E,G#,B,C#) in mm. 329-334 of the recapitulation. Similar comparisons can be made throughout the recapitulation. The coda contains material from the codetta and material loosely derived from Th. 1A. The sonata ends with the motive that originally opened the piece in Intro Th. A.


As we have seen, by analyzing the thematic material and the overall harmonic framework of Scriabins Sonata No. 5 using pitch class sets, while still considering traditional chord configurations, we can recognize how Scriabin embarked upon a new compositional style which bridged some aspects of traditional harmony (i.e., dominant & major chords) with his future sonatas which embraced greater atonality. Traditional chord names assist with recognizing the old formations, while pitch class sets help us recognize how they are related throughout Scriabins individualized approach to composition.


APPENDIXTable 1- Overall Structure of Sonata No. 5, Op 53 by A. Scriabin Formal Section Introduction (1-46) Introduction cont. Exposition (47-156) Exposition cont. Exposition cont. Exposition cont. Exposition cont. Exposition cont. Development (1) (157-246) Development (1) cont. Development (1) cont. Development 2 (247-328) Development (2) cont. Development (2) cont. Development (2) cont. Development (2) cont. Recapitulation (329-400) Recapitulation cont. Recapitulation cont. Recapitulation cont. Recapitulation cont. Coda (401-456) Coda cont. Coda cont. Notes Intro Theme, Group A (Intro Th. A) Intro Theme, Group B (Intro Th. B) Main Theme 1, Group A (Th. 1A) Transitional Material Main Theme 1, Group B (Th. 1B) Transitional Material Main Theme 2 (Th. 2) Codetta Derived from Intro Th. A Derived from Intro Th. B Derived from Th. 1 (A & B) Transition derived from Intro themes Derived from Th. 2 Measures 1-12 13-46 47-87 88-95 96-113 114-119 120-139 140-156 157-165 166-184 185-246 247-262 263-288

Transitional Material based on mm. 140-141 289-304 Transitional Material derived from Th.1A Variation of Th. 2 Th. 1A Transitional Material Th. 1B Transitional Material Th. 2 Derived from Codetta (mm. 140-141) New Material / Derived from Th. 1A Derived from Intro Th. A 305-312 313-328 329-348 349-356 357-374 375-380 381-400 401-408 409-450 451-456


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