An idealist, mystic and a dreamer, Alexander Scriabin talked about his Mysterium for years but never had time to work it out or even write it down. He hoped to be ready within five years on condition of a quiet, concentrated and financially secure life, requirements he actually never experienced in his life. But still, he made plans for moving to India and building there a sanctuary for everlasting mysteriums which would change the world. No audience, just creators and participants: artists, musicians and open-hearted and inspired people able to create the new universe. He dreamed of spiritual transformations due to the power of “synthetic art” accumulated in orchestral music, songs, dances, lights, colours, special fabrics, ritual smoke and perfumes. 

Markus Stenz © Catrin Moritz
Markus Stenz
© Catrin Moritz
One hundred years after the death of the composer, the Mysterium is performed in the Main Hall of the Concertgebouw with a choir, a soloist, a pianist and an orchestra. No exotic scents or light effects, just the music – thought by Alexandre Scriabin and realized by Alexandrer Nemtin (1936-1999). Impressed by Scriabin’s sketches, Nemtin spent more than a quarter of his life reconstructing and recreating the Mysterium in the spirit of its author. One can discuss whether this three-acts giant sounds as Scriabin dreamed of, but the world of this Russian composer is definitely recreated thanks to chords, motifs and musical ideas which belong to Scriabin’s musical idiom and are recognizable from the very first chord of the Universe

Whether Scriabin or Nemtin, the Mysterium impresses with its programme, its length (more than three hours) and its orchestration. Scriabin planned to give voice to nature and to express the presence of divine being as well as the catastrophes of the ‘terrible world’. A modern listener with his rich visual and aural experience will recognize it all and will be surprised how accessible this complicated sound world is: just think about the nature documentaries about planets, mountains and oceans and you already know the sounds of the Scriabin’s Universe. This relative rest and harmony disappears however in the second part, when Mankind makes his entrance. After the sound density of the Universe (1972) and tension of Mankind (1976-1980), the final Transfiguration (1996) appears as the least enthralling part. It is quite obvious though that the path of transformation goes through an enormous smithy where a new world is being forged. No divine music with goosebump moments – just eruptions and a violent struggle in the middle of earthly clay; transformations of spirit unexpectedly replaced by Tolkiens monsters and war machines from the Lord of the Rings...

The impact of such a complex work as Mysterium only half depends upon the music and its underlying philosophy. The creation of a new synesthetic world leans on the musicians and their persuasion and conviction. The audience in the Concertgebouw in this NTR ZaterdagMatinee was lucky to meet the most dedicated performers. The pianist Alexey Zuev visibly enjoyed his solos, which prepared the sound explosions in the orchestra or created an oasis of peace and calm. Undulating passages, trills, soft chords and endless repeating motifs – these were the piano ‘stones’ of creation. The matra-like repetitions helped to glue all the three parts together and gave a solid structure to the whole musical construction.

Both the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the choirs represented a giant, multi-voiced music instrument with all possible timbres and registers to ensure the sound transformations. Though the soprano Marisol Montalvo was overshadowed by the orchestra and the choir at the start, her voice grew stronger in a powerful vocalise at the end of the second part. She recovered completely in the third part and was transformed in an enchanting and furious siren using the whole range of her voice to accent the melodic lines and penetrating outcoming last notes. Between this ocean of sounds, Markus Stenz had to find a balance and provide the musical stability. In such a titanic work, Stenz managed to co-create the Mysterium as a unity of colours and sounds of everybody’s contributions to this immense construction. 

Scriabin truly believed in his role as a cultural Messiah and expected from his interpreters the same ‘mystic tuning’. Whether the musicians on stage shared his ideas or not, they ensured a impressive result corresponding with Scriabin’s (and Nemtin's) ideas of ‘magic influence’ of the art.