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For many composers, their fifth symphony marked a milestone, either for themselves or for the public, or for both. For Scriabin, because, after writing his, he focused entirely on writing his last five piano sonatas and making plans for his magnum opus Mysterium, for which he wrote 55 pages of verbal notes and texts of what was to be its opening segment: L'Acte préalable (= The Preparatory Act) but not a single note of music on a stave of a score, just single notes and chords on score paper (Bowers, New Scriabin, p. 96, See below), about which Bowers wrote, p. 124: "He had always wanted his music to create 'physical shocks of sound power.' Now he wanted universal dissolution in Ecstasy defined as Nothingness." He then died rapidly (in 10 days) and way too young from blood poisoning, so his 5th was his last.
Like many symphonies of other composers, this one has a name, a two-part one even: "Prometheus; Le Poème du feu"; but these were given by the composer, not by an editor, publisher, or reviewer, and it was in French, because educated Russians of his time learned and spoke that language as well as their own, although he was far from fluent. Alexander Nicolaievich was a member of a family of military officers and career diplomats, so above the middle class, part of the lesser, non-land-owning upper class; men were schooled, and women were educated, generally privately. Coincidentally, a score of Prometheus dating from 1913, with autograph annotations by Scriabin, re-appeared in 1978, that, once examined and made public (although it has still not been published), revealed a number of details theretofore unknown, is owned by the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. This work was also originally conceived as a prologue to Mysterium, having actually been inspired by his earliest plans for that. His 3rd and 4th symphonies also have names that he gave them: "Le Divin Poème" and "Le Poème de l'extase" respectively. After his first two, they all abandoned traditional formal construction, and are in a single movement; Harper's Weekly critic, Lawrence Gilman referred to this as "'[…] amorphous structure […]'" (Bowers, Biography [See below], v. 2, p. 162).
This was the first symphony ever to have been conceived and written with a stave (its uppermost, of 30) for a lighting display controlled by a keyboard, "Tastiera per luce," referred to as the "Clavier à lumières" in the Paris score, but the machine, designed and built by Scriabin's friend, electrical engineer, professor of electro-mechanics, and photographer, Alexander Mozer, and tried out in an experiment on the ceiling of Scriabin's apartment (now the Scriabin Memorial Museum; a model of it is there now), did not function properly, so Scriabin withdrew it from its premières on 2 (= 15) March 1911 in Moscow, in the Grand Hall of House of August Gathering (now House of the Unions; essentially unchanged from Scriabin's time, you can get an idea of the space and architectural features that he envisioned being bathed in colored lights; information courtesy of Tatiana R. Gorshkova, Chief Bibliographer, Dept. of Music Scores and Musical Recordings, Russian State Library, Moscow), and 9 (= 22) March in St. Petersburg, by the RMO (= Russian Musical Society Orchestra), both conducted by Serge(i) Koussevitzky, with Scriabin at the keyboard, without that component. It was the 2nd work on the program, following his Symphony No. 2 in c, Op. 29. They repeated it in two concerts in Berlin later that year (Bowers, New Scriabin, p. 86).
It was given in London, also without the colored lighting component, by the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood, with Arthur Cooke at the piano, on 1 February 1913, with a note in the program book by Rosa Newmarch, who subsequently wrote a letter to Scriabin describing the performance. It opened the program, and was repeated after the 2nd work, a Beethoven piano concerto, an un-heard-of procedure that elicited some complaints. The playwright George Bernard Shaw and the American painter John Singer Sargent were in the audience, and both, unlike a goodly number of its other members, stayed for the 2nd hearing; at its conclusion, the latter shouted: "We want to hear it a third time!!" Altschuler also repeated it at the NYC 1ère (See Part 1 in "The Color of Sound, the Sound of Color" elsewhere in these pages). Alexander Siloti offered it in Moscow with the RMO, Scriabin at the keyboard, on 9 November 1913, also repeating it, after overcoming the composer's objections. This was the 1st concert ever there with general admission tickets available to the public; they were previously available only by subscription. (Bowers, Biography, v. 2, pp. 142-43).
The US 1ère was in Chicago, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Frederick Stock, pianist unknown (not named in the program book, nor in any press materials, per an e-mail from the CSO archivist), on 5 March 1915, without both colored lights and wordless chorus called for in its concluding portion. It was given in New York City on 21 March 1915 with the colored lights component, but not in the manner in which Scriabin had conceived it, being instead projections of the colors on a gauze screen behind the orchestra, rather than bathing the hall with them: «Свет должен наполнить зал» (= "Light must fill the whole hall." Vospominanija […], p.68/Erinnerungen […], p. 71, my trans. from the German, confirmed by Spivak; See Part I of "The Color of Sound, the Sound of Color" for details about the performers).
Koussevitzky conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 10/1924 to 8/1949; he programmed the work with it seven times in the spring of 1925 with Alexander Lang Steinhart at the piano: four in its Symphony Hall the 1st on 25 April, 2nd on 1 May, two in Carnegie Hall in NYC, and one in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and twice in April 1942 in Boston, all without colored lights. He also programmed other works by Scriabin, because he had a strong affinity for the composer and his music, although they had a complete falling-out by the end of 1911 and never spoke to each other again. Only Dennis Russell Davies has programmed it with the BSO since: four times in 2/1981, all in Symphony Hall, also without colored lights. This was a very futuristic, visionary concept on Scriabin's part; he was in many ways a century ahead of his time (See below). There were performances with the colored lighting at the University of Rochester, NY, in 1967, with György Sándor at the piano, Judith Somogyi, conductor (who died of cancer in her early 40s), and under James Dixon at the University of Iowa, pianist unknown, in 1975, who also repeated it a 2nd time. Here is an article about various attempts to realize the colored lighting.
The note about the work in the concert bill for the Russian premières was written by Scriabin's dearest friend, Leonid Sabaneev, who writes in his Vospominanija o Skrjabine (Moscow: 1925, p. 94; Kuhn, p. 98): «С его буквальных слов, почти под диктовку я написал объяснительный текст к «Прометею» и по его поэме в стихах составил объяснение к «Поэме экстаза». Я просидел у него до ночи.» (= "Literally, almost as directed by Scriabin, I wrote down the explanatory text to Prometheus and composed an explanation to The Poem of Ecstasy from his poem in verse.", trans. Spivak). It is clear from this work that Koussevitzky, with whom Scriabin performed in Moscow, also had some input during the planning and the unprecedented 9 rehearsals. This book of Reminiscences of Scriabin has not been translated into English, but it was translated into German by Ernst Kuhn: Erinnerungen an Alexander Scrjabin (Berlin: Ernst Kuhn, 2005). With help from two others (I know no Russian and my knowledge of German is limited): Nadezhda Spivak, of the Amherst College Center for Russian Culture and my German-speaking friend Bill Riley in South Hadley, MA, respectively, I have 'consulted' both versions (I looked over every page of the German version.) and provide herein page references in both.
The original is written in a continuous somewhat rambling text in a general but not strictly chronological order, whose time frame begins in 1891 (the only specific date given other than that of Scriabin's death) and ends in 1915. The most detailed information begins c. late 1909-1910, the period when Scriabin returned to Russia (April 1910) from his 6-year stay in other European countries, when the author became closest to the composer and began spending many evenings with him, in his apartment or in a neighborhood pub or restaurant, and when Scriabin began envisioning his Mysterium, to which he referred as his "Testament" (= Will). It is occasionally possible to postulate a likely date of something mentioned based on something historically recorded, e.g., the 1ères. The text is not divided into chapters, nor is there an index of any kind. The German translator, Kuhn, divided it into chapters, each headed with a listing of topics discussed, and created an index of people's names (it does not include those of Scriabin's works), which is a help in locating discussions of some subjects.
Sabaneev and Scriabin discussed the correspondences between colors and sounds on several occasions, some of them with the score of Prometheus in hand, during which notes were made above its Luce stave in what is presumably the annotated copy now found in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, to which the Scriabin family donated it in 1978. Few were included in the 1st score published in Berlin and Moscow (Édition russe de musique [sic], house founded by Koussevitzky [Bowers, Biography, v. 2, p. 184, & New Scriabin, pp. 71-72], on 30 April [= 13 May] 1908), which therefore merely shows the note/tone to be played on the color machine's keyboard that is like that of a piano. It was reprinted in 1913, of which this is a copy. Gawboy (See below) incorrectly refers to it as the "Parisian" score; it should be the "Paris" one, following the standard practice for designating a manuscript's location, because it was not created or published there, although all the notes in Scriabin's hand are in French (See above).
A British psychologist, Charles S. Myers, of Cambridge University, interviewed (in French, which he also did not speak fluently) Scriabin during his visit to London in March 1914, on the occasion of a performance (without colored lights) of Prometheus, conducted by Sir Henry Wood, with Scriabin at the piano, in Queen's Hall on 15 March (Bowers, Biography, v. 2, p. 259); there were other performances of others of his works during the visit as well, Bowers, New Scriabin, p. 93.) and published his summary of the encounter in an article: "Two Cases of Synesthesia," in the British Journal of Psychology, v. VII, No. 1, 1 May 1914, pp. 112-117 (The discussion of Scriabin ends on p. 115; the remainder is dedicated to an unidentified "accomplished" female painter). Many of the details are the same, but none are in direct quotes; this is Myers' summary and assessment, and is therefore a corroboration by a professional. "Colours form for Scriabin so important a part of the total effect of sound that he desires his Prometheus to be performed to the accompaniment of concealed lamps which shall flood the concert hall with a light of ever changing colour; the music of his Mystery, when completed, will be performed with a similar play of colours, and with odours." They also discuss the similarities and differences of his color sensations and those of Rimsky-Korsakov, which the two discovered when attending a concert together in Paris and discussed the ones they both shared or each associated differently. (p. 112) "[…] Scriabin's chromesthesia refers to the tonality of the music." (p. 113, Itals in original) See Part 1 of "The Color of Sound, the Sound of Color."
The two actually discussed this at the Scriabins' apartment, at 24, rue de la Tour in Passy (16e arrondissement; although Oscar von Riesemann, in his Rachmaninoff's recollections, claims it occurred at the Café de la Paix, but Tatyana would not have been present there to witness it, because she never accompanied Alexander when he attended concerts in public due to her status as his common-law, not his legal, wife), in May 1907, with Sergei Rachmaninoff present, as well as Tatyana, who reported the details in a 23 May letter to their friend and Scriabin's pupil, pianist Maria Nemenova-Lunz (1878-1954):
"During one quarrel Rimsky and Scriabin sided against Rachmaninoff. The argument concerned the connection between colors and sounds. Both Scriabin and Rimsky heard synesthetically, that is, saw colors while they heard music. Scriabin felt his colors like a blind man feeling his way on the piano keys. Rimsky responded visually by keys. He saw Eb major as blue; Scriabin saw the note Eb alone as the steely glint of metal, the key reddish-purple.
Rachmaninoff resisted the whole concept. His opponents tried to prove that this quality, photism, was inherent in everyone, and that even he used it unconsciously.
'Why then in the cellar scene of your Miserly Knight,' Rimsky said in reference to the moment when the old baron opens his caskets of gold and jewels, 'do you make the key of D major predominate? It's the color of golden brown.'
'You see,' Scriabin interrupted, 'your intuition follows laws whose very existence you try to deny.'" (Bowers, Biography, v. 2, pp. 168-69)
The technology did not exist in 1911 to be able to achieve Scriabin's goal of bathing the performance space, all its architectural features, and the audience in the indicated colored lights: «Какие планы у меня, какие планы!.. Вы знаете [...], что у меня в «Прометее» будет... [...] свет... [...] Свет, [...] Я хочу, чтобы были симфонии огней... это поэма огня. [...] Вся зала будет в переменных светах. Вот тут они разгораются, это огненные языки, видите, как тут в музыке огни...» (= "What plans I've got, what plans!.. You know [...] that in Prometheus I will have… [...] a light… [...] A light, [...] I want symphonies of fire to be there … it is a poem of fire. [...] The whole hall will be filled with changeable lights. Here they are flaring up, they are fire tongues, see how there are lights here, in the music…", Vospominanija […], p. 44/Erinnerungen […], p. 44); or for producing the fast or slow changes in/of the colors he wanted to accompany the changes in the tones: «Но ведь когда свет усиливается до ослепительности, то все цвета обращаются в белый, всё в нем сливается, так что тут оттенки уже не так существенны. [...] Мне солнце тут надо! [...] Свет такой, как будто несколько солнц вдруг сразу засияло!» (= "But when the light is becoming more intense until it's dazzling, then all the colors turn into a white one, they all merge into it so that tones are not so essential anymore. [...] I need the Sun here! [...] There is such a light as if several Suns suddenly started shining at once!" (Vospominanija […], p. 71/Erinnerungen […], p. 73, trans. Spivak). It can now come closer.
In fact, as far as I know, the sole performance in which it came truly close was by the Yale Symphony Orchestra, Toshiyuki Shimada, cond., with pianist Daniel Schlosberg, in Woolsey Hall of Yale University in New Haven, CT, on 13 February 2010. A full and detailed discussion of Prometheus arising from the preparation for and execution of this performance with examples, images, videos, references to prior discussions and original sources, a comprehensive bibliography, and links can be found here. There is quite a bit of highly technical composition material in the middle of this article by Anna M. Gawboy and Justin Townsend, but I encourage you to read the opening background information and then plow on to arrive at the discussions of the performance decisions for the Luce stave, to watch all of the short videos in the table of four earlier attempts with four different orchestras, one of which is closer than the others, and one of which did not work for me, than to watch the full c. 28-min: performance video with a spoken introduction by Gawboy and some rehearsal footage here. Then read her fine "Conclusion," in which you will learn how it still falls short of Scriabin's vision...
Based on things reported by Sabaneev, both in exact quotes and in paraphrases, in the Vospominanija […]/Erinnerungen […], Scriabin most certainly and definitely experienced mentally, neurologically, and physically, color-sound correspondences, contrary to Gawboy's conclusion. For example, and there are numerous others throughout the book: "У меня сначала не все цвета были отчетливо видимы. Только некоторые тональности давали мне яркий образ. […] Это были Fis – синий, яркий и тёмный, насыщенный, несколько такой торжественный и полный, это цвет Разума. Затем был для меня ясен D – золотой, солнечный, цвет "plein jour" и F – красный, кровавый цвет Ада. Вот из этих трёх надо было делать вывод. Но я его мог сделать только тогда, когда построил такой силлогизм: цвета соответствуют гармониям, тональностям. Родство тональностей – по квинтовому кругу, самые близкие – это находящиеся в отношении квинты. А цвета самые близкие – соседние по спектру. А дальше уже всё было ясно. Три ясных для меня цвета дали мне три пункта опоры, остальные я уже вывел. А когда вывел, то увидел, что действительно это так, а иначе и быть не может..."
(= "Initially, not all of the color correspondences were clear to me. Only a few tonalities/keys/sounds stuck out and gave a striking picture. […] There was Fis [F#]: blue, an intensive dark, somewhat festive and full [blue], the color of reason. Then D was clear to me: golden, sunny the color of the plein jour. Further F: red, blood color of hell. With these three, one could begin and draw the conclusions. I was able to do this by developing the following syllogism: the colors correspond to the harmonies and the keys/tonalities. The key relationship follows the Circle of Fifths: the keys are next to one another at an interval of a fifth. The colors are arranged next to one another as they are neighbors in the spectrum. Everything else was then clear. The three colors which were certain for me built the foundation for further derivatives. As I did that, I recognized that it actually behaved in this way and couldn't be otherwise . . .", Vospominanija […], p. 238/Erinnerungen […], p. 262, trans. Spivak/Riley). Gawboy quotes this in the article as if it were Sabaneev's words, but it is between quotation marks in both the Vospominanija […] and the Erinnerungen […], as reproduced here, so they are Scriabin's.
However, based on other things he said during these discussions, and the changes in the colors assigned to some tones from 1911 to 1913, I believe that, even though he clearly imposed some rational thinking onto his meticulously structured works, he deliberately refused to establish a rigid color-sound equivalence system, even though they generally followed the circle of fifths, likely innately understanding that different people experience different things differently simply because of the immense variety in the human species and individuals' own sensual perceptions, and experience different things at different times as well; his own association experiences were not always identical, either, as his statement above proves. I draw this conclusion as well from the conversations with Sabaneev in which they discuss their own differences, and on the fact that Sabaneev also discussed the differences between Scriabin's and Rimsky-Korsakov's perceptions in his earliest article (early 1911) in Muzyka, journal which they (Sa & Sc) founded in November 1910, on the subject (See the text in Part 1 of "The Color of Sound, the Sound of Color").
Of color-sound correspondences, Bowers writes (Biography, v. 2, pp. 204-5):
"Scriabin's scale of colors was arbitrary and personal, and although man, any man, can see in the neighborhood of 8,000 colors, his choice was restrictive. He worked on a scheme of fifths in cycles, and since red and orange are closest colors, they had to be his C and G, etc. / [the scale with corresponding colors follows in a line] He tried to match the physical logic of the spectrum. But no infallible correlation is possible, since the level of vibration between sound and sight is too distantly at variance. Apples cannot be counted as pears, neither logically nor scientifically, except in an extra-sensorial realm of intuition. It is impossible to process music through some chamber box of mathematics and have it come out lighted color. Under drugs, photism is a frequent manifestation, but the connection remains in the province of imagination and as material for the artist. No two people see the same colors every time for the identical tone."
This will give you a taste of his writing in this work. He writes, p. 70 in The New Scriabin, that "both composers [Sc and R-K] had the gift or ability of synesthesia or photism and were able, from birth, to see colors while hearing tones.", and on p. 192: "Scriabin, it must be pointed out, did not see colors as individual tones, but as tonalities and chordal complexes." He quotes (p. 103) Scriabin's half-brother's son Apollon, quoting Scriabin on their last walk together a few weeks before his (Sc's) death, as having said: "I can paint a picture better in music than a good painter can ever paint of my music."
The most recent book about Scriabin, The Alexander Scriabin Companion : History, Performance, and Lore, by Lincoln Ballard, Matthew Bengston, and John Bell Young (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlfield, 2017) devotes an entire chapter (# 6, "On synesthesia or "Color-Hearing," pp. 131-157, notes pp. 347-351) to an analysis and survey of Scriabin's experience of color-sound relationships. It is the best and most thorough treatment of the subject available, although it is not without the occasional typo (Cytowic's name is misspelled on p. 133), the occasional perpetuation of an error (the location of the Rimsky-Korsakov-Scriabin-Rachmaninov discussion, p. 164), and the misidentification of the conductor of the Rochester, NY, performance (Lázló rather than Judith Somogyi, p. 144), and the occasional unverifiable assumption: they say that because Scriabin did not discuss this with anyone until 1907, when Scriabin was 35 (p. 136), he did not experience it earlier, but he cannot be interviewed to know this for certain (It is entirely possible that his introduction to Theosophy in 1905 [See below] inspired him to think about this more seriously.). Nonetheless, it does appropriately point out the differences in the concept of the phenomenon between 1911 and today, and the many misinterpretations that have also been made about it and his experiences with it, and is well worth reading for its thoroughness. Chapter 4, "Symphonies and Orchestral Works" contains (pp. 98-110, notes, pp. 341-43) an equally well-done section about Prometheus. Some of the piano works, including Vers la Flamme, poème pour piano, Op. 72 (See below), which according to Sabaneev in his Vospominanija […], p. 295, was originally conceived to be a sonata, are discussed in Chapt 6. The accompanying illustrations in both sections are excellent choices, but the concert bill of the Moscow 1ère is not among them, while that of the 1915 New York performance is.
Scriabin had no interest in creating a dogma; he wanted audience members to have an ecstatic mystical experience that would give them pleasure, enlighten them, and move them spiritually. This is also the general thrust of the music itself. Some of the material in the concept of Prometheus (= the Greek Titan) derives from Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine, a theosophical publication, which Scriabin had read attentively and intensely; it was a philosophy that appealed to his own mystical inclinations. Bowers writes, New Scriabin, p. 192, "Prometheus: the Poem of Fire is the most densely Theosophical piece of music ever written. Its symbolism is endless." His equivalent in his Biography (v. 2, p. 207) is similar, but more expansive, a full paragraph that concludes: "Nothing in orchestral literature approaches its shimmering brilliancy and scintillating novelty. Its sheen is brittle as icicles, its heat blistering, and mixed in are soaring, surging themes–some seven different ones–of almost naked exaltation." This gives you a glimpse of how the 2 books differ. This was written in 1969 about a work composed in 1909-10. There has been a lot more such experimentation since, but I'm not convinced it surpasses this achievement from the perspective of imagination, though the technology has undergone light years of progress since.
Scriabin first encountered Theosophy when he was living in Switzerland in 1904-1905, and someone he met in the Lord Byron Hotel in Paris, when he was there organizing the 1ère of his symphony No. 3, Le Divin Poème, gave him a copy of Helena Blavatsky's (1831-1891; She founded the Theosophical Society in Paris on 5 May 1905.) La Clef de la Théosophie. Scriabin wrote to his then mistress, later 2nd (common-law) wife, Tatyana de Schloezer: "La Clef de la Théosophie is a remarkable book. You will be astonished at how close it is to my thinking…" (Bowers, Biography, v. 2, p. 52; "These are Scriabin's only specific references to Theosophy as such, although from now on more and more of his friends and adherents were drawn from the Society."). The chapter in Bowers' Biography (v. 2, pp. 47-71) devoted to this is entitled: "Doctrine." Scriabin once wrote in a letter to Sabaneev: "'Music is the path of revelation.'" (Bowers, Biography, p. v. 2, p. 70).
Sabaneev made two piano reductions of the score, the 1st for two-hands, apparently soon after it was completed (Vospominanija […], p. 71/Erinnerungen […], pp. 73-75, perhaps, based on this within the sequence of the development of the work, for rehearsal purposes for the pianist and the wordless chorus section, or in view of publication following that of the score, which was customary with concertos. His publisher, Mitrophan Belayev wrote to him, in a letter of November 1897 when he was in Paris on his second tour, just after his 1st marriage: "Nobody publishes a concerto without also publishing the transcription of the orchestral part for piano at the same time." (Bowers, Biography, v. 1. p. 247) Scriabin was not very diligent about producing his; most of them were executed by others: the concerto in question is his sole one for piano, and his new wife, Vera Ivanovna, also a talented pianist, did that reduction for him, which did not please Belayev. I did not find such a score available for Prometheus, however. The 2nd was likely prepared in the winter of 1913 for two pianos, four hands, with the 1st piano likely playing primarily the piano stave of the score (which is in many ways actually a piano concerto: "The piano represents man or the microcosm […]", Bowers, New Scriabin, p. 192), and the 2nd, the reduction of the orchestral parts (Vospominanija […], p, 277/Erinnerungen […], pp. 307-09). It was published later in 1913 or early in 1914 (I believe, based on the position of the discussion in the book, and that the plate of the score says 1913, the year of the reprint of the original full score), though some sources say it was published in 1911; it can be found online.
Scriabin was a revolutionary composer, not in the sense of wishing to overthrow prior styles and create something totally new, but rather to move the art forward and upward into a higher realm. Bowers writes (New Scriabin, p. 146): "[…] he was more of a culminating point than an innovator in (sic) himself. He was not, for all his originality, 'a tailless comet,' as the Russians say. […] His system [of composition, subject of Chapt. VII] was completely new and purely Scriabin . . . a climactic end to exhausted possibilities." Prometheus was his personal concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk that Richard Wagner had proposed, but Scriabin felt that Wagner did not understand how colors and sounds inter-related; indeed, he said that Wagner didn't understand the color of fire, the theme of Prometheus: «Разговоры о световой симфонии возобновлялись у нас и потом, неоднократно. Раз как-то они возобновились в связи с вопросом о Вагнере и «свете у него». Скрябин утверждал, что Вагнер не чувствовал света, потому что у него не те тональности, какие должны быть при свете.
- Вот «Feuerzauber» написан у него каждый раз в разных тонах – значит, у него не было определённого видения на этот счёт. И каждый раз тональности неподходящие. У него цвет огня, стало быть оранжевый, то есть G, а у него «Feuerzauber» идёт в E, в F, только не в G. Затем у него, например, белый свет дня изображается один раз C-dur'ом, другой раз B-dur'ом – в «Гибели богов» в сцене рассвета.»
(= "Afterwards, we were resuming our conversations about a light symphony a number of times. One time we resumed them because of the question of Wagner and "his light". Scriabin insisted that Wagner didn't feel light because he didn't have those tones which are meant to be present in the light.
- Now, Feuerzauber was written each time in different tones, it means that he didn't have a definite vision on this topic. And each time these tones are unsuitable. So his color of fire is orange, that is G, but in Feuerzauber there is E and F, anything but G. Furthermore, for example, his white color of day is presented one time by Cb, another one by Bb in Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) and in the scene of dawn.", Vospominanija […], p, 239/Erinnerungen […], p. 264, trans. Spivak).
Scriabin was a mystic and a visionary thinker: "[His] philosophy above all else wanted transubstantiation in music, to turn sound into ecstasy." (Bowers, Biography, v. 1, p. 319). He once said: "My goal is maximum musical thought placed within a minimal form." (ibid., p. 331). "He could never stop inventing his brightly painted chords and honeyed harmonies." (Bowers, ibid., v. 2, p. 52). Many of his works from his "middle period" (1904-1910) on were succinct, some were downright cryptic. Prometheus, with all its complexities of sound and light, lasts only c. 25 minutes. "One critic called Prometheus 'the most original piece of contemporary music . . . a bridge between what is and what will be.'." (Bowers, New Scriabin, p. 83, Itals in original; also in Biography, v. 2, pp. 205-6); many thought he was "[…] questing ideas for supertruths […]" (New Scriabin, p. 102), but he was certainly imagining and describing what today's multi-media technologies can attempt, if not yet completely achieve, but could not be remotely approached in his time.
Sabaneev, in an autobiographical note that he wrote in 1929, after he wrote Reminiscences […] for the English musicological journal Music and Letters (Vol. X, No. 3, 1 July, pp. 226-277), sought to dispel the apparently then rampant notion that his own music was like Scriabin's. He characterized the latter's thus: "The fundamental dominant of his creative work is ethereality, lightness, incorporeal diaphaneity, a soaring quality, ecstatic yearning, nervous exaltation, rapture. In his music there is a minimum of weighty emotions and it is filled with an ardent joy." (trans. S. W. Pring [co-founder of the journal], 1927) The entire note is reproduced (pp. 6-10; p. 9 is a photo of Sabaneev, Tatyana, and Scriabin on the banks of the Oka River) in the booklet accompanying v. 1 (of 2) of Michael Schäfer's 3-CD traversal of Leonid Sabaneev's "Complete Works for Piano" (Genuin GEN 15380 = 2 CDs) performed on Bösendorfer Imperial, # 49741-290-215.
The most thorough biography of Scriabin, that consulted all the original sources then available is: Faubion Bowers (1917-1999; he lived in Japan and spoke Japanese as well as Russian), Scriabin; a biography of the Russian composer (1871-1915), Tokyo & Palo Alto, 1969, 2-vols, Pp. 646; 2nd rev. ed., Mineola, NY: Dover, 1996; [This is, however, a misrepresentation: like all other Dover products that I have ever seen, it is a photographic reissue, down to the p. #'s and their position on the pages; this 1 is a 2-vol. product bound as a single volume, without the pages of v. 2 being re-numbered, and is preceded, at the head of the 'Table of Contents' page, by a note to this effect. The photos are placed in different positions (indicated) within, and are no longer on glossy paper, but are otherwise unchanged. The correct bibliographical term for this process is "reprint," generally abbreviated "rpt," (WorldCat & LoC: Take note!), at most, "corrected re-issue," not "revised edition," whether done by the original publisher or another; indeed, the "Bibliographical Note" below the "Copyright" notice on that page, which merely transfers it to Dover from the original publisher, describes it as "a corrected and revised republication," (my Itals), so this "2nd rev. ed." denomination is "fake news," corporate publishing shenanigans; some chapters I compared are virtually identical. I discovered some typos in reading the 1st ed., but did not draft an "Errata" list, which would not have been long, especially for a work of this length, and it is, therefore, not worth the time and effort to compare the entirety of both "eds" to identify the "incorporate[d] numerous corrections and revisions" asserted in this note. I found very few of the latter, about a half-dozen, mostly minor, in those I compared, the most significant in v. 2, chapt. V, "Doctrine, pp. 65-66," concerning drawings in a Notebook. An "Introduction to the Dover Edition" by Bowers (pp. 5-6, unnumbered, new, replacing the "Dedication" page, also unnumbered, in the 1st ed.) explains how that came to be published in Japan. He claims to have discovered a huge number of Errata, but does not provide a list or a total #.] It is a treasure trove of information and original material from letters and notebooks translated into English (mostly by Bowers, properly attributed when not), and contains numerous photos, including 1 of Sabaneev, Scriabin, & Mozer (v. 2, between pp. 192 & 193 in the 1st ed.). It's an excellent read, its length is not overwhelming; although it is in no way what would today be called a "scholarly biography," the scholarship is there, and, I believe, for the most part trustworthy.
Of it Bowers wrote (p. xi), in the "Preface" to his 2nd book (whose "Introduction," pp. ix-x, is by Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor of the best complete set of the orchestral music [Decca 4739712], and also a pianist, so familiar with all of Sc's works), the capsule biography, analytical and evaluative, and, like Scriabin's music, architecturally structured, with XI chapters, the 1st 5: the life, the last 5: the music (incl his performance thereof), with the pivotal central chapter VI: "Mysticism" (The central chapter in his Biography is entitled "Philosophy"), published four years later: "My first book on Scriabin was more 'materials' than biography–what Martin Cooper called a 'mine of information'–in that it consisted of exhaustive, and perhaps exhausting, translations of letters, documents, poems, texts[,] and reminiscences." It nevertheless reads easily and well. One of the items included is one of Scriabin's poems (He wrote many, but published only one: the 300-ll. « Poème de l'extase » that parallels the musical work, in 1906; Bowers, Biography, v. 2, p. 129; printed in English translation pp. 131-35.): "Like the word of Christ / As the deed of Prometheus / I clothed thee, O world of mine, / With a single glance, / And by my one thought." (v. 1, p. 139). The 2nd book is: The New Scriabin; Enigma and Answers, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973, Pp. xiv + 210, and is a brilliant gem of biographical writing, that is also dense with facts and information, but an easy, entertaining, and enlightening read; I highly recommend it.
Note: This is part 1 of 2 parts. For part 2 of this article, click here.