Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, Chromesthete

Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was a Russian composer born in 1872. His symphonies and other collected works are known for their adventurous experimentation in tonal and atonal musical systems, which greatly influenced future musical giants like Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky. He was an avid reader of philosophy, and used his music as an outlet to express his philosophical dispositions. One of these dispositions held a particular uniqueness above the rest, for Scriabin wrote his music in accordance to color associations. It is broadly accepted that Scriabin possessed a form of synesthesia known as chromesthesia (the cross sensual experience of color associations in response to musical sounds), which profoundly influenced his creative output. Scriabin even went as far as to create a color wheel in association to the circle of fifths in music theory to serve as a reference tool for understanding the synesthetic aspects of his compositions. However, it wasn’t just the association of music and color that intrigued Scriabin. He was infatuated with the totality of cross-modalities in sensual experience, writing (but never performing) his magnum opusMysterium, which was to be a week long show case that combined dance, scent, music, and light. Another, no less ambitious work, Scriabin composed was a symphony known as Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, op. 60. The piece called for the use of an instrument called the clavier a lumieres (color organ) that generated colors rather than sounds in response to key strokes and chords on a keyboard. However, due to technical limitations in the early 20th century, Scriabin himself never conducted the piece with the color accompaniment. The piece has only been attempted a few times with limited colored lighting, but none of the performances executed the lighting in accordance to Scriabin’s full color-music system. It seemed that the symphony was doomed to never being fully actualized, until a doctoral candidate at the Yale music school named Ann Gawboy took on the undertaking in 2010. Below is a video documentary of the behind scenes to Ann Gawboy’s and the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 performance of Scriabin’s symphony Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, op. 60 in accordance to Scriabin’s full colored vision for the piece. The performance is spectacular. Click here to read a journal article concerning Ann Gawboy’s research on...

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