24 December: Scriabin’s alcohol-based cure

Every day throughout Advent, the season of overindulgence, we’ll be telling a tale of an overindulgent composer


Composer: Alexander Scriabin


How indulgent: Carefully indulgent

How: As we approach the big day, perhaps it won’t do us harm to consider someone who was far from indulgent. It has been claimed that Alexander Scriabin was compulsive, and among his greatest fears appears to have been poor hygiene. If a piece of food such as bread fell from a plate onto the tablecloth, he refused to eat it.

However, diet was considered a possible cure to the chronic right-hand pain that Scriabin experienced from the age of around 20 onwards. The diet recommended to him by his doctors? Regular consumption of a traditional Tartar and Mongol dairy product called kumiss, which contains 1-3% alcohol and was believed to cure a range of disorders and illnesses. Scriabin dubbed this treatment ‘harmless alcoholism’. Tolstoy and Chekhov were also regular consumers.

Scriabin’s under-indulgence with food was allegedly mirrored elsewhere in his life; he would wash his hands each time after shaking someone else’s, and wore gloves at home to prevent the spread of contagious germs. When prescribed medicine by a doctor, he would always consume a dose higher than that which had been recommended to him. Oh, and the kumiss didn’t work.

Did you know: Scriabin may have fancied himself as a dietary expert. In a letter to a friend in which Scriabin expressed concern at his companion’s diet, the composer wrote that ‘diet means not only refraining from certain foods but strictest moderation at all times. And as for those meat pies… well, I don’t need to go into that any further. You’ll come to grief… you must eat less.’

Now indulge yourself with…..  Vers la flamme


One of Scriabin’s last piano works, this piece may have been written under the composer’s conviction that heat would destroy the world, but in the context of Christmas, let us instead imagine a warm fire and roasting chestnuts!