Light and Flame


The programme consists of Franz Liszt’s symphonic poem Prometheus and Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus for piano and orchestra (soloist - the young pianist Ivan Rudin), and also two suites from the music for Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnis and Chloe.

Prometheus or The Poem of Fire (1910) - written for big symphony orchestra and piano, with organ, chorus and clavier a lumieres, is one of the most important Scriabin works. Its ‘programme’ is linked to the ancient myth about Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and brought it down to man. The symbolists to whom ‘mythmaking’ came naturally (viz., the works of the same name by Valery Bryusov and Vyacheslav Ivanov) invested fire with important symbolic meaning. Scriabin was also attracted by the element of fire. Fire, as interpreted by Scriabin, carries an element of incantation – and in his Prometheus one is very much aware of the themachistic aspect. In a certain sense this has something in common with the ideas of Blavatsky whose The Secret Doctrine and other works, Scriabin attentively studied. Blavatsky interprets Lucifer as a “carrier of light”. Scriabin’s predisposition to the romanticization of Satanism is well known. “Satan is the yeast of the Universe”, he once said.

Scriabin wrote The Poem of Fire departing from the artistic and philosophical trends of his time, and therefore its link with the ancient myth is more of an external nature. From the authorial programme, which prefaced the score, we know that Prometheus personifies the “creative principle”, “active energy of the universe”. He is “fire, light, life, struggle, effort, thought”.

Alexander Lazarev, one of the most outstanding of contemporary Russian conductors, is known, among other things, for his ability to create well thought out, effective programs. The maestro decided it would be of interest to include Franz Liszt’s Prometheus in this concert (a symphonic poem originally composed as overture to Herder’s play Prometheus Unbound). Liszt’s Prometheus was written about fifty years before that of Scriabin. Listeners will be made aware of how very different are the interpretations of one and the same theme by two great composers, belonging to different centuries (19th and 20th).

Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloe was written in 1911 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Russian Seasons. It was designed by Leon Bakst in the refined style which was ‘traditional’ for the Diaghilev enterprise. The ballet was mounted by the outstanding Russian choreographer Mikhail Fokine, and the title role (Daphnis) was danced by the great Nijinsky.

The ballet is based on an ancient Greek pastoral storyline. An innocent love between the two protagonists unfolds in the open air, virtually becoming one with the harmony and peace of the surrounding world. Ravel undertakes his attempt to ‘return’ to the ‘golden age’ of history in an atmosphere of universal disharmony and fears, of which at that time prewar Europe was full…

Boris Lifanovsky