Today is the centenary of the death of Aleksandr Scriabin. The composer’s piano music is now a core part of the repertoire, in particular the preludes and sonatas, and in his late style he developed a highly individual but very coherent harmonic language.
Scriabin claimed to be able to associate sounds with colours and worked out a formal schema of sound and colour associations, with the cycle of fifths correlated with points on the light spectrum. The score of his symphonic poem Prometheus even included a part for clavier à lumières (simply marked “Luce” in the score) which used conventional musical notation but projected colours, not sounds.
RIAM doctoral student Svetlana Rudenko is researching the subject of synaesthesia in relation to Scriabin and other composers in a number of papers and conference presentations, including the recent International Conference on the Multimodal Experience of Music (ICMEM) and forthcoming Sinestesia 2015: Sciencia y Arte conference in Spain (Jaén, 16-19th May, 2015). More information also at http://www.svetlana-rudenko.com/
The clavier à lumières was only the latest in a series of such instruments (the earliest being Louis-Bertrand’s clavecin oculaire dating from the 1720s) as discussed in Kenneth Peacock’s article Instruments to Perform Color-Music: Two Centuries of Technological Experimentation Leonardo, 21/4 (1988), 397-406
Perhaps one of the stranger facets of Scriabin’s posthumous reputation was the Soviet state’s revisionism in co-opting the composer as a proletarian hero following previous Stalin-era denunciations of his work. In 1961 Soviet Radio beamed his Poem of Ecstasy into Yuri Gagarin’s spacecraft, and Shostakovich (who privately disdained Scriabin’s music) in a 1972 official speech stated: “It is not an exaggeration to say his music was on the side of those who fought against tyranny and justice”. Lincoln Ballard, ‘Alexander Scriabin’s Centenary Revival in Soviet Era Russia’ (Journal of the Scriabin Society of America – via academia.edu)