Scriabin, who died 100 years ago this year, was the first composer to associate colours with music; he believed that there is an aesthetic connection between musical harmony and shades of colour. The Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky was inspired by Scriabin, amoung others including Wagner. Kandinsky wanted to create what Scriabin had for music, but for colours and feelings. Kandinsky, had his own colour theory to match colours with musical tones or instruments.
There is a possibility that Scriabin had Synaesthesia, a condition where a sensation in one of the senses, such as hearing, triggers a sensation in another, such as sight. In Scriabin, music triggered a vision of certain colours in a ‘union of his senses’. Each note corresponded to a specific colour: C-red, G-orange, D-yellow, A-green, E-sky blue, B-blue, F#-bright blue, C#-violet, G#-lilac, D#-flesh, A#-rose, F-deep red. However, some composers such as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, disagreed with Scriabin about which keys related to which colours. It is believed that Messiaen and Liszt were also synaesthete, although the condition isn’t common even in people with perfect pitch.
Scriabin was also deeply philosophical and mystical; he had visions of other worlds and he wished to transport his audiences to other realms through his music. He had planned a great piece, the Mysterium, which would be performed in a half temple in India. The spectacle would include a light show engulfing performers and audience members, who would sit across a pool of water. Incense and acrid smoke would be blown across the scene, costumed speakers reciting texts would parade with the dancers and Scriabin would sit at the piano surrounded by the orchestra. Scriabin died before the composition was complete, this dream was never realised. He once boasted that only his music could express the inexpressible.
A few years before his death, Scriabin produced a colour keyboard with colour lamps, known as a clavier à lumières. In the score for Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910), Scriabin described how his clavier à lumières should accompany the orchestra. The colour organ was to be played like a piano but instead of emitting sound, it projected coloured light onto a screen. The only performance using the color organ as Scriabin had envisioned, was in New York in 1915. This was the year that Scriabin died, of an untreated infection under his famed moustache. It seems that Scriabin had vast sources of inspiration and had he lived longer perhaps more of his dramatic, other- worldly dreams would have been realised.
(Written on November 17, 2015 )