The MHS Review 236 Vol. 3, No. 2 March 5, 1979
By Gerald Stein
"Some people laugh when I compare Scriabin to Beethoven, but I am absolutely serious. They are similar on many levels. First, both men were great innovators in the areas of form and musical language. Scriabin was years ahead of his time and pointed the way for much 20th century music."
For Russian pianist Dimitry Paperno, the music of Scriabin presents a striking parallel with that of Beethoven. "Some people laugh when I compare Scriabin to Beethoven, but I am absolutely serious. They are similar on many levels. First, both men were great innovators in the areas of form and musical language. Scriabin was years ahead of his time and pointed the way for much 20th century music."
"Secondly. their music aims toward the freedom of mind, of the human spirit, and the ultimate happiness and ecstacy of humanity. Their music represents man's struggle from darkness to light, the struggle toward freedom and the elevation of the human being."
"Finally. the output of both men can be divided into three periods: an early, youthful period, a middle grouping, and a later period comprised of works which are difficult, complicated. and were misunderstood by many people when they were first played."
Scriabin would seem to be more than a great composer for Maestro Paperno; rather, he is a "cause" to be championed much the way Bruno Walter felt that Mozart was a cause early in his career. Paperno's first exposure to Scriabin's music came during his days as a student of the legendary Russian pedagogue Alexander Goldenweiser, an intimate of Tolstoy as well as a friend and colleague of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. Indeed. Goldenweiser's picture was prominently displayed in Scriabin's home. It was in Goldenweiser's class. as a nine year old boy, that Paperno met Lazar Berman, initiating a friendship which has lasted some forty years.
While continuing his studies with Goldenweiser, Paperno was declared "laureate" at the 1955 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw and won the same title at the 1958 International Enescu Competition in Bucharest. At Expo 58 in Brussels he was honored as the pianistic representative of the Soviet Union. His concert career has included performances with the Halle Orchestra and appearances in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Rumania as well as the Soviet Union, under such conductors as Rozhdestvensky, Kondrashin, Svetlanov, and Konwitschny. While in Russia he made several recordings for MK and Melodiya.
Maestro Paperno and his family left Russia in 1976 and in 1977 moved to Chicago, where he is on the faculty of DePaul University. (2023 Editor's Note: Mr. Paperno died in 2020, and Howard Reich at the Chicago Tribune wrote this fine tribute.) As a man of great personal charm, Paperno is not above making a joke at his own expense: "I am distinguished as the pianist who doesn't play the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 and the 'Appassionata' Sonata!'' More to the point, his repertoire is wide ranging and features Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, Haydn, Grieg, and Beethoven as well as the Russian school through Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Schedrin. However, he is not particularly fond of contemporary music.
The pianist is a man of refreshingly strong convictions and is not afraid to make an unequivocal statement: "I believe Scriabin is the greatest Russian composer because he touches the universal aspirations of all men. Scriabin must be understood first as a genius and only then as a mystic and moral philosopher. But, when you hear his music, if you don't feel the mystical and emotional quality, the idealistic striving for freedom, then you haven't appreciated it 100%."
For Paperno, the piece Vers la Flame included on MHS 3998, is an especially literal example of this characteristic Scriabinesque progression from dark to light. "The image of the flame is a symbol Scriabin used frequently, as in the Poem of Fire. Here he depicts the fight of good against evil, beginning in darkness, pessimism, and suffering, and leading to ecstatic delight."
In Dimitry Paperno's judgement, the popularity of Scriabin's musical message is increasing significantly. Moreover, in listening to the expatriate Russian pianist one senses that Scriabin's struggle for freedom and fulfillment of the creative spirit, has had special meaning in his own life. But this shouldn't be surprising. Indeed, for a champion of the music of Scriabin, one must realize that it really could be no other way.
Dr. Gerald M. Stein is a clinical psychologist and music commentator on WNIB radio in Chicago.