After the remarkable two-year burst of creativity that produced the final five piano sonatas (1912-13) Alexander Scriabin came up with two more works of real importance: the remarkable, acidic Vers la flamme, Op.72 and the vessel into which Scriabin's final musical thoughts were poured, the Five Preludes, Op.74 of 1914. Scriabin had been composing piano miniatures his entire life, and no fewer than fourteen other collections of preludes appear in his catalogue (one, the Opus 11 group, being of the entire twenty-four prelude cycle variety). But by the time of these final pieces Scriabin was a radically changed musician, on the doorstep of complete atonality and, in his own mind at least, the representative of divine creative force in an increasingly complex mystical and theosophical world- view. And so it is not surprising that five such concentrated, stringent works as these should be among the most challenging essays he left for posterity.
Tonal ghosts haunt the Preludes, warped into tortured shapes and fused into a desperate, at times near-hysterical (and ultimately unfulfilled) yearning for resolution of some kind--harmonic, textural, thematic or otherwise. Witness, for instance, the minute-and-a-half Op.74, No.2, whose skeletal F sharp minor continually lunges up in an effort to achieve the C major with which Scriabin in his later years became obsessed-first melodically, by that same A-C gesture that the trumpets blast out triumphantly in the Poem of Ecstasy, and then by tritone chord-relation-only to eventually plummet weakly back down to the horror that corporeal life seems to have become. If such techniques seem threadbare after a whole century of abuse at the hands of less gifted imitators, the intensity of Scriabin's expression remains undiminished.