Today marks 150 years since the birth of the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, one of the most colourful characters in 20th century music – and one of the most original thinkers too.
A lot of that thinking went beyond his music to embrace the universe itself, culminating in the unfinished Mysterium project. This hugely ambitious concept was to be performed in the Himalayas and followed by the end of the world.
That gives an indication of the scope of the composer’s thinking, and you can trace that in his music too, which moves from Chopin-influenced piano works to increasingly complex and dense music, notable for its rich harmony and unusual rhythms. As Scriabin’s music progressed so did his fascination with colour and in particular synaesthesia, which became a primary stimulation for him in his writing.
Arcana intends to look at his work in more detail this year, particularly the ten piano sonatas which stand as a fascinating and innovative cycle of work. For now, though, you can enjoy Prometheus: The Poem Of Fire. Depending on your viewpoint, this tone poem, set in the composer’s favourite key of F sharp major, could be Scriabin’s Symphony no.5, or a second piano concerto. Either way it is an exotic, unbroken piece of music lasting nearly 25 minutes, rich in colour and certainly rewarding repeated listening!
In February 2010 Anna Gawboy, a Scriabin scholar and doctoral candidate at the Yale School of Music, attempted to realize the composer’s ultimate wish of a colour keyboard which would perform the work. She worked towards this with conductor Toshiyuki Shimada, the Yale Symphony Orchestra and the lighting designer Justin Townsend.
You can watch the lead-up to the concert and the performance itself on the documentary below: