The Poem of Ecstasy

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Alexander Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy (Le Poème de l'extase), Op. 54, is a symphonic poem written between 1905 and 1908,[1] when Scriabin was actively involved with the Theosophical Society.[2] It lasts about 20 minutes.


Scriabin sometimes referred to The Poem of Ecstasy as his "fourth symphony", although it was never officially called such and avoids the traditional division into separate movements. Although played as a single movement, there are traces of the classical sonata key-scheme that Scriabin had employed previously, but it is no longer structurally important. As described by Bernard Jacobson:

The form depends instead on the constant interpenetration and cross-fertilization of a multiplicity of tiny thematic units, most of them so sinuously chromatic as to subvert tonal feeling almost entirely beneath the vertiginous onslaught of shifting harmonic colors.[1]

Scriabin wrote a long poem to accompany, but not be recited with, the music. It ends with, "I am a moment illuminating eternity....I am affirmation...I am ecstasy."[3]

Scriabin professed to evaluate music as being the most highly evolved of all the human arts. He also claimed that the emotion of ecstasy was the most highly evolved of all the human emotions. The Poem of Ecstasy attempts to combine these two aesthetic principles.[citation needed]

Modest Altschuler, who helped Scriabin revise the score in Switzerland in 1907, and who conducted the premiere with the Russian Symphony Society of New York on 10 December 1908,[4] [5] [6] reported that Scriabin's implied program (which does not appear in the score) is divided into three sections as follows: [1] [3]

I. His soul in the orgy of love;

II. The realization of a fantastical dream;

III. The glory of his own art.


The work is scored for 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, small and large bells, tam-tam, celesta, organ (harmonium if the organ is not available), 2 harps and strings.[7]


Henry Miller made reference to this symphony in Nexus, the third volume of The Rosy Crucifixion:

That Poème de l'extase? Put it on loud. His music sounds like I think - sometimes. Has that far-off cosmic itch. Divinely fouled up. All fire and air. The first time I heard it I played it over and over. (...) It was like a bath of ice, cocaine and rainbows. For weeks I went about in a trance. Something had happened to me. (...) Every time a thought seized me a little door would open inside my chest, and there, in this comfy little nest sat a bird, the sweetest, gentlest bird imaginable. 'Think it out!' he would chirp. 'Think it out to the end!' And I would, by God. Never any effort involved. Like an étude gliding off a glacier.

In the movie Barfly, Poem of Ecstasy can be heard in one scene.


  1. ^ a b c From the essay by Bernard Jacobson (1991) in the booklet accompanying the recording issued as Brilliant Classics 92744.
  2. ^ Kostitsyn, Evgeni (2003). "Scriabin, Alexander Nikolayevich". CDK Music, Inc. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  3. ^ a b Benson, Robert E. "Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54". Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  4. ^ New York Daily Tribune, December 11, page 6.
  5. ^ New York Herald, December 11, page 12.
  6. ^ The Evening Post (New York), December 11, page 7.
  7. ^ "Full Score: Symphony No.4, 'Poème de l'Extase', Op.54 (Scriabin, Alexander)". International Music Score Library Project. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 

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