Scriabin (2): Tonal implications and desire for resolution in “Caresse dansée” op. 57/2

In the second of his two piano pieces op. 57 Scriabin clarifies the previously implied ambiguous desire for resolution of the opening chord.

The previous post dealt with the first of the two piano pieces op. 57 by Alexander Skriabin, composed in 1908. In this follow-up post, I’ll be tracing how the opening chord – common to both pieces – is continued in the second piece “Caresse dansée”.

Example 1 shows the possible implications at the start of “Caresse dansée” (LISTEN HERE). While interpretation 1D suggests both chords have the same root, while 1C comes closest to explaining the sequence of falling fifths felt at the beginning of the piece. That much of the piece is in fact built on variants of a falling fifths sequence is clearest in bars 34–41 (Example 2). Here, too, the sequence includes a falling diminished fifth towards to end – typical also of Baroque and Classical falling fifths sequences– not least because the sequence would otherwise not end in C major, but in C flat major. At the start of the piece, diminished and perfect fifths alternate, resulting in the passage shifting chromatically downwards every two bars.

Similarly, the varied restatement of the opening chord in bars 17/18 (Example 3) makes the note D appear as the most likely root, since the tritone C-F# (7th and 3rd of the chord) resolve quite traditionally into the sixth B-G, i.e. G major (bar 19). On the other hand, the chord that follows in bar 20 is clearly built on B, forming a third relation to the previous G. Such third relations had been used frequently at least since Beethoven and Schubert. However, one could also find another fifth relation here: reading the root in bars 17/18 as F# would suggest a deceptive motion to G (bar 19), followed immediately by the “correct” resolution to B major. As bars 21–24 repeat bars 17–20 a minor third lower, the roots here would be Eb-Fb-Ab. Lastly, combining both interpretations results in nested falling fifths (see the different-coloured arrows in Example 3).

This play with a diffuse desire for resolution, which forms the basis of these pieces, can be linked to the theory of drives being developed around the same time by Sigmund Freud (see Smith 2010). The link is corroborated further by Scriabin’s own claim

“[w]hen I have no desire I am nothing”

(de Schloezer 1987, cited in Smith 2010).

I’d be keen on hearing what you think of such an analysis of implications. And does the piece discussed in this post (“Caresse dansée”) actually clarify what the first one (“Désir”, discussed previously) only vaguely implies? Comment below and sign up to the newsletter if you’d like to receive updates on new blog posts!


Boris de Schloezer: Scriabin – Artist and Mystic (Oxford, 1987).

Kenneth Smith: “‘A Science of Tonal Love’? Drive and Desire in Twentieth-Century Harmony: the Erotics of Skryabin”, Music Analysis, 29 (2010), pp. 234–63.


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