Boris Bergmann as an interpreter of the piano works of Alexander Scriabin

—— The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) has been an important musical point of reference for Boris Bergmann since his childhood. Born in 1970, Bergmann is a composer, classically-trained pianist, but also a rock and punk drummer. As pianist, he has repeatedly occupied himself with the piano works of Scriabin. And as composer, he has obtained impetus from the musical language and the aesthetics of the early modern avant-garde. In this respect, this recording, with the earlier 24 Preludes, Op. 11, composed between 1888 and 1896, and the 5 Preludes, Op. 74 from 1914, combine two important prelude cycles by Alexander Scriabin. These are from his early and late periods of creativity, completed by the eighth and final etude of the Op. 42, composed in 1903. For Bergmann, this recording is the fruit of several years of complex work with the oeuvre of the Russian. Similar to Bergmann’s own composition process is his interpretative approach to the works of Alexander Scriabin. It is characterized by a fine, yet partially unconscious balance of spontaneity and control.

Boris Bergmann: When interpreting the works of Alexander Scriabin, I have made a point of always doing it very impulsively. That is to say, even though I’ve been practicing the pieces just for myself, I tried to play totally different versions of the same piece.

—— Like Bergmann’s own compositions, his approach as pianist is also characterized by a great spontaneity and an intuitive process leading the impartial listener to an effectively, carefully planned performance. Preceding this however is a phase of varying trial and error fixated on valid interpretation results. No longer directly heard is the originally underlying spectrum of possible interpretations. The whole process leads to a somewhat paradoxical effect of controlled
expression. This surely has to do with the particular sound he has envisioned ensuing on the album’s recordings. Bergmann is not only an interpreter but also a sound engineer, having recorded all pieces on his own historic Schwechten grand piano built in 1910.

BB: Even before buying it, I tried out Alexander Scriabin on the Schwechten and realized that the music suddenly gains a different patina from the instrument.

—— The special instrument with its diaphanous register colors and the direct, low reverb “miking”, allows Bergmann to create a slender, very transparent overall sound. Compared to many older recordings, Bergmann’s Alexander Scriabin works, precisely because of that “historic” sound, purified and well-balanced, in no way obscured by late romanticism.

BB: On this recording one hears every note, every single note, rarely heard elsewhere on other Alexander Scriabin recordings.

Martin Ullrich: This does not lead me personally to an impression – in a sense – of unbridled expressivity but to a feeling of controlled expression.

BB: From the outset it was clear to me, in terms of the incredibly passionate interpretations of his own works by Alexander Scriabin himself that I would not try to imitate him as an interpreter. Instead, I wanted to find my own perspective. To some extent how I practice is part of this, to play ‘piano’ when the dynamic marking in the score is ‘forte’ or ‘decrescendo’ when ‘crescendo’ is given.

—— In spite of his use of the historic instrument, Bergmann’s interpretations of Alexander Scriabin’s works are not about attempting to achieve historical authenticity but rather about regaining quasi-improvisational appropriation.

BB: For me, character always has absolute priority over being faithful to the notes. Last but not least are Alexander Scriabin’s own interpretations: the justification as it were for my approach because he does so many other things than what he originally wrote in the score. I would say Alexander Scriabin only notated one possible version of the piece; however, he did not write down the other 99 ways of playing this piece.

—— Unmistakably, Bergmann’s own experience as composer has made possible a certain degree of freedom of interpretation which would remain closed to a one sided pianistic approach. A relationship undoubtedly exists between Bergmann’s album of Alexander Scriabin made approximately at the same time as the recordings of his own piano works. This results in an extraordinary interrelationship between his roles as a performer and as composer. For this re-creative approach to Scriabin’s works it is fitting that Bergmann approximates his interpretation of the early Preludes, Op. 11, with the late Op. 74. It frees Op. 11, which originated in the 19th century, from the notoriety of its excessive Chopin imitation. In his appropriation of Alexander Scriabin’s oeuvre, Bergmann has in fact proceeded from the late Alexander Scriabin to his early works. His understanding of the early preludes is due to his familiarity with the later works of the Russian avant-gardist.

BB: The early cycle Op. 11, and the later Op. 74 – of all of Alexander Scriabin’s preludes I find these to be my favorite cycles and milestones.

—— In each of the partly, almost aphoristically, short pieces, Bergmann discovers another world. Nevertheless, he is able to convey the cyclical density which merges with the contrasting miniatures. This recording of these landmark compositions provides the opportunity to discover Scriabin through a new approach: historical sound, freedom through an improvisational approach, compositional understanding and interpretive sensitivity are united in Bergmann’s new recording as a unique re-creation.

Interview and Text: Martin Ullrich, English translation by Jeffrey A. Coulas