KANDINSKY, SCRIABIN, STEINER AND THE PRIMITIVE
Back in the late 1970's an incandescent recording of Alexander Scriabin's Fourth Piano Sonata was released by the Russian pianist Andrei Gavrilov.
An aspiring pianist at the time, and raised by my father on a musical diet in which Scriabin figured as the principal protein, I was pretty obsessed with the Fourth Sonata, though dubious about some of the composer's's later works which I considered excessively ego-driven and priapic in conception.
I had been left underwhelmed by recordings of the Fourth Sonata by several well-known pianists (Sofronitsky's incomparable vintage reading had not yet become available). Under Gavrilov's visionary hands however, at last the sensual, langorous opening, and the way it exploded into the 'presto volando', finally succumbing to the orgiastic fever of F sharp major (bright blue in Scriabin's colour language), suddenly made absolute sense.
Concurrent with the recording being issued, Gavrilov gave a rare radio interview. Speaking in gentle, persuasive tones which belied the fury of his playing, he expressed the opinion that all musicians should seek to study other art forms from the epochs of composers whom they are studying, something with which I have always agreed. In particular, he cited that pianists studying Scriabin should know about the paintings of Kandinsky.
PAINTING WITH GREEN CENTRE - Wassily Kandinsky (1913)
Extremely interesting to me is that both Scriabin and Kandinsky were drawn to Theosophy, a deeply spiritual movement embracing, among other concepts, reincarnation, universal brotherhood and social improvement. Thereafter however, their paths appear to diverge.
Kandinsky had read the writings of Rudolf Steiner, including his proposal that we all inhabit several bodies including the astral, which is invisible. He believed that Art could be 'higher than Nature' and, most interestingly to me, he was deeply drawn to simplicity and primitivism in Art. The almost psychedelic abstraction of Kandinsky's late work does indeed echo aspects of Scriabin's flights of fantasy, but his early paintings embody a disarming simplicity.
MURNAU, BURGGRABENSTRASSE 1 - Wassily Kandinsky (1908)
Scriabin meanwhile, seemed increasingly drawn to high-flown ideas of an all-embracing and, as it happened, unfulfilled artistic utterance, to be named 'The Mysterium', in which all creative forms would be united.
The composer Cyril Scott, himself a follower of Theosophy, has stated the following:
“Various forms of pantheism, including Eastern religions and theosophy, propose that nature has an indwelling intelligence. Scriabin's harmonic system, especially Prometheus, therefore has an almost inhuman quality about it. Scott says that Scriabin was not under the supervision and protection of a spiritual teacher and that his mysterious death from a pimple was due to his inability to handle the strain he was under from contacting the higher intelligence of nature”.
Perhaps Scriabin stepped off an artistic precipice, losing contact with the simple, the humble, even the naïve, which may be at the root of all human creation. Kandinsky however, the art critic Matthew Collings tells us, “needed the primitive, the musical, and the way colour works....He liked unknown artists, as they got to the essence of the spiritual”.
Most fascinatingly, Kandinsky likened painting to playing the piano, something that regular readers of this blog will know is a profound conviction of my own.
HOUSES AT MURNAU - Wassily Kandinsky (1909)
I possess a wonderful book, OUTSIDER ART, by Colin Rhodes (Thames and Hudson) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outsider-Art-Spontaneous-Alternatives-World/dp/0500203342 in which Rhodes delves into the world of art produced outside the mainstream, by self-taught, untrained visionaries, spiritualists, eccentric recluses, folk artists, psychiatric patients, criminals and others beyond the imposed margins of society and the art market.
There is a chapter on Art Brut (as exemplified by Jean Dubuffet), and on Art by the Insane; I am reminded of many affirmations of the fine line present between madness and sanity by, for instance, Alexander Pope, and Jean Dubuffet himself who stated that “For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity”.
I would recommend this engrossing, moving and absorbing book to anyone interested in Art from beyond the orthodox path. I also feel that Kandinsky might have appreciated it for its honesty, candour and lack of snobbishness.
I have always considered myself to be a person outside the mainstream. I do not fit the mould of bourgeois conformity and predictability of the affluent area in which I live. I am something of a maverick, forging my own path and casting my own mould in life, and I am proud to be so.
Abstract Art is itself a burning, unpredictable flame.
Alexander Scriabin, whose birthday fell on Christmas Day in the Julian calendar, considered himself to be the new Messiah. On that note, as well as on a more conventionally seasonal one, I wish a Happy Christmas to all my readers!
Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022