Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70
Though known as a “mystic,” “egoist,” and “Muscovite seer” by his admirers and critics alike, due to his own mystical and philo- sophic utterances and their representa- tions in his music, Scriabin was a consum- mate craftsman who left in his wake a body of work that attests more to his musical genius than to his mystical preoccupations, no matter how profoundly they influenced him. At the time of his death, he was push- ing the boundaries of harmonic chromati- cism and dissonance to levels of expression equal to his contemporary Arnold Schoen- berg and influencing the early works of his compatriots Stravinsky and Prokofiev. By 1913 Scriabin felt he was on the threshold of new developments and it is interesting to speculate what his impact on music would have been if he had lived longer.
Scriabin composed his last three piano sonatas within two years, and they are often considered as a group. Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70 (1913) is known in the English- speaking world as either the “trill sonata” or the “insect sonata,” these nicknames depicting the plethora of trills in the piece. Scriabin himself is alleged to have commented: “My Tenth Sonata is a sonata of insects. Insects are born from the sun… they are the sun’s.”
Sonata No. 10, like the four sonatas that precede it, is a single-movement, multi- sectional work. An introduction presents interlocked descending thirds in the soprano and bass. An ensuing melody made up of half steps is then punctuated by the opening thirds. The second section begins with the “insect trills” that rush into music based on both motives from the introduc- tion, while the trills continually sound. This is followed by another statement of the opening thirds in a varied manner. This large section leads to an impassioned pas- sage dominated by trills. All of this moves toward a section of fragmented motives punctuated by trills. The sonata ends with a final statement of the opening descending thirds.