Genesis of Alexander Scriabin's   "Light Symphony"


Within the specialist Scriabinologistic literature, the great composer's special interests in philosophy are often emphasised. For this reason, some specialists note that all of the creative work of Scriabin is directly mediated via his philosophy, and that his music is essentially a "philosophy of sounds". Others tend to consider his music in itself quite sufficient, and feel that no special knowledge of the philosophic passions of the composer is necessary for its comprehension. As is evident from these two views, the appraisals are quite contradictory, and a realistic interpretation lies just between them. Numerous attempts to resolve this question have been undertaken. The fundamental task lies in the revelation and concrete explanation of the title of this paper. Scriabin selected and absorbed from numerous past and present teachings those moments which could explain or justify his failure in achieving a brilliant feat: to realise, independently, an unique artistic action named ,,Mystery". This event may have been capable, through its influence, of radically reorganising all of mankind. Within this goal, one can see the comrehension of the Artist as a Higher Person, as the result of the Artist's Messianism, Orphism and whimsical interpretation of ideas of Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Nevertheless, these supertasks required the drawing upon of appropriate "supermedia" for their potential solution. The result was the project of a mysterious "Gesamtkunstwerk", which would organically unite the possibilities of all kinds of creativity, both conventional and innovative. Among the non-traditional media, Scriabin derived the so-called "Light Symphony", the "dress rehearsal" of which took place with "Prometheus" ("The Poem of Fire", 1910). Scriabin was the first composer to introduce into a musical score an independent role for a light instrument; the "Luce". As my analysis shows, there were tonics (keynotes) of sounding chords entered in the notation of the "Luce" and here he treated the change of the chords as the change of the tonalities. Thus, in the light line of the "Luce" he realised a colour visualisation of a tonal plan of music in accordance with his own system of "colour hearing". But how and why did the composer reach such an idea?

In the vocabulary of the theosophic dictionary (and it is known that Scriabin took a great interest in theosophy), "aura" is one of the fundamental concepts. Every person is believed to be encircled by a kind of incorporeal halo, which is a sort of colour visualisation of the soul, visible only to the initiated. It is believed that "primitive" people have "simple" auras (of red, or brute, colour), and that spiritual people have "complex" ones (of blue, or pure, lofty hue). Scriabin himself did not use the term "aura" when he spoke about art. However, Cyril Scott, an English scientist and Scriabin's contemporary, who knew of Scriabin's interest in theosophy, and was himself knowledgeable, made in his book "Philosophy of Modernism" a very delicate remark: that not only man can possess an aura, but also the fruits of his creative work. As an example he cited the Promethean "Luce".

In fact, under a comparative analysis of the organisation and structure of the "Luce" and the philosophic programme of "Prometheus", one cannot help but see that both the tonality plan and the colour dynamics of the "Luce" are in equal measure aimed at returning an original sense of being by restoring "Spirit" into matter, followed by another revival of "Spirit". In the tonality plan, it is the movement from "spiritual" tonality (F#) to a "material" one (C), with a subsequent ascent back to the "spiritual" (F#). Changes of colour correspond accordingly: from "spiritual" blue through "material" red, and back to blue.

Hence the "Luce" may be truly regarded as a materialized aura of the music of "Prometheus". However, if one translates this into everyday language, it will appear evident that Scriabin and the theosophists are exploiting here a trite colour symbolism, based upon elementary associantions, such as the "simplicity" of red (warm earth) colour, and the "complexity" of blue (cold, sky) colour, which is a simplified recognition, in the perception of even children and uneducated people.

In fact, to base an analysis of an "aural" genesis of the Promethean "Luce" within the context of a theosophic origin may be considered as transient and accidental for both the history of light-music and for Scriabin himself. The truth is that in his post-Promethean projects, he renounced his idea of colour music entirely, and he began to apply an oral-visual counterpoint which included within the visible not only colour, but also complex sculptures of abstract forms. The idea of "oral-visual polyphony" is the primary contribution of Scriabin to the development of the concept of light-music. Nevertheless, this cannot be explained simply by means of theosophy. Moreover, at this point, Scriabin had to resign his position as theosophist, and he allowed himself to be guided solely by his intuition of artistic genius. Thus he attained the summits of the conception of polyphonic synthesis, which remain to this day inaccessible for many of our contemporaries.

Published in the catalog: "Ostranenie-97", The International Electronic Media Forum, 5-9 Nov. 1997, Dessau, in German - pp. 50-52, in English  - pp. 53-56.