I. Vanechkina

Scriabin’s "Prometheus" is the first composition in the world music, which score includes lighting part ("Luce"). This part has been written using ordinary note signs, and contains no indications of colors corresponding to the notes. Neither Scriabin left any verbal instructions of this kind.

Data concerning the original plan of "lighting symphony" are available in the memoirs of composer’s contemporaries: Yu. Engel, A. Goldenveiser, Ch.Mayers and, first of all, L. Sabaneyev. (The latter even devoted to this subject several articles and chapters in his books on Scriabin).

The well-known fact of Scriabin’s "color hearing" (i.e. the ability to associate colors and tonalities [1]) naturally would lead any researcher to the conclusion that the composer had fixed in "Luce" part his own color visualization of tonal plan of music.

At first L. Sabaneyev, who mainly played a role of Scriabin’s biographer and interviewer, had fixed an obvious fact of change of colors in accordance with change of tonalities [2]. But later, after Scriabin’s death, he began to doubt it, since the very notion of tonality he found difficult to apply to "Prometheus". Indeed, at first sight, harmony structure of the composition, based upon the succession of six notes chords, does not go to Major-Minor system.

L. Sabaneyev was also confused by that in "Luce", together with the main mobile voice, there exists second, slow one. To his opinion, this second voice does not meet harmony at all, therefore cannot be linked with color- tonality hearing in any way. In addition, Scriabin sometimes reasoned on the colors of certain themes, such as Mind, Will, etc., beyond ordinary color-tonality analogies. Whether this image-bearing vision of music’s content has found its reflection in "Luce", L.Sabaneyev never could understand [3].

As a biographer and musicologist, he was certain only in the following facts:

These statements, together with the above Sabaneyev’s points in question, served as starting line in further deciphering attempts undertaken by G. Rimsky-Korsakov, F. Yur’ev and, to a certain extent, by Yu.Rugs and E. Nazaikinsky. Unfortunately, their analysis of possible connections between "Luce" and Scriabin’s color-tonality hearing resulted in the uncertain and contradictory conclusions too.

G. Rimsky-Korsakov did not carry out harmony analysis of "Prometheus" at all, but simply completed "Luce" note line with a designations of concrete colors, taken from the tables of Scriabin’s color-tonality correspondences [5].

F. Yur’ev, being not a musician and therefore unable to do harmony analysis, simply takes in trust Sabaneyev’s allegation of the atonal nature of "Prometheus" harmony, and a priori excludes any possible connections between "Luce" and composer’s color-tonality system. He believes that "Luce" is totally independent part, being a product of Scriabin’s intuition in the so-called "mute" music of light [6].

On the contrary, Rugs and Nazaikinsky proceed from the necessity of harmony analysis. But, unfortunately, their interpretation of chords – side by side with very fine observations concerning chord’s structure and "Luce" itself – has been made incorrectly. And therefore they could fix only the mere fact of frequent coincidence between the notes of mobile voice and bass of harmony. As for the rest of the score, they say, the change of colors sometimes follows the change of episodes, and sometimes – the change of themes, instruments… In those cases when there was no synchronism of "color part" and score, the authors supposed counterpoint relations between music and light [7]. But here one may note that such multi- functionality of color and transition to the counterpoint bear no sensible motivation.

Thus, the fact of "lighting symphony" creation on the basis of color-tonality analogies, being so obvious at first, proves to be more and more mysterious… We then set as an object to analyze each chord of "Poem of Fire" in order to ascertain their tonality’s affiliation and to trace, measure by measure, in which relations the harmony and lighting line are. We also have studied thoroughly archival materials contained statements of Scriabin and his contemporaries on this subject, and, at the first hand, all manuscripts of the score, including drafts. That allowed us to come to quite certain conclusions on "Prometheus" harmony and its correlations with "Luce".

Many musicological studies have shown that Scriabin’s harmony and, all the more, complicated multi-sound complexes of "Prometheus" cannot be explained on the basis of classical harmony. All the attempts to apply it’s apparatus led to ambiguous results, attended by a number of exceptions, which often nullified the value of analysis (this concerns only "Prometheus" and later period!). In this respect the author fully shares opinion of many Soviet scientists [8].

In our view, more promising would be an application of double-mode theory by B. Yavorsky, fruitfully developed by V. Dernova since forties.

But, studying in details the memoirs and archival materials on Scriabin of his later period, we realized that the conclusions, made on the base of that theory, contradict, in many respects, to Scriabin’s own characterizations of a h armony. (Such evidences remained, let in fragmentary form, but in a number sufficient to notice these contradictions). Hence we set as an object – to systemize all separate data, and to make our best in reconstruction of Scriabin’s own concept of "Prometheus" harmony (first of all by means of thorough study of Sabaneyev’s talks with the composer, diaries and other notes).

The results of our investigation made us put special attention on three interconnected propositions, suggested by Scriabin and recorded by Sabaneyev (who did not understand them properly, as can be seen from his scientific works where he tries to explain Scriabin). First, Scriabin’s "Prometheus" manifests new stage of his harmonic thinking. The change of six notes harmonic complexes is the change of mode-tonalities, while their content determines both vertical and horizontal musical structure (Scriabing defined "Prometheus" melody as "unfolded harmony") [9].

Second, this chord-mode, named "Prometheus’ six notes (chord)", Scriabin himself considered as steady tonic, similar to basic triad in classical harmony. Third, as Sabaneyev writes, the mode in Scriabin case actually consists of harmony alone. He cited composer’s remark that not only harmony, but "all figurations are based upon the same fundamental scale too" [10]. The analysis of the score convinces, that actually the content of both harmony and melody is determined by the only one six notes complex. (The occasional seven notes complexes only develop the initial principle, laying in their basis). The interval content of this six notes complex can be judged from Scriabin’s own words on the first chord of "Prometheus" (g-dis-a-cis-fis-h), that he related to mode-tonality "A". In a form of scale, starting from the fundamental, it looks like a-h-cis-dis- fis-g. Transposition of this six notes complex to C-dur, (Scriabin adds), gives the following scale: c-d-e-fis-a- b (by the way, such scale really can be met in some "Prometheus" drafts [11]).

Taken separately, these points have been already noted by some researchers. But for those among them, who considered attentively the first and second statement, the third one appeared to be a stumbling-block. One way or another, the following interpretations of the interval content of the first "Prometheus" chord have been suggested: by L. Danilevich – from G: g-a-h-cis-dis-fis (i.e. tone, tone, tone, tone, tone- and-half); by Rugs and Nazaikinsky – from H: h-cis-dis- fis-g-a (i.e. tone, tone, tone-and-half, semitone, tone) [12].

From the formal point of view, there are another four possible interpretations of the interval content of this chord (i.e., the "Prometheus" six notes complex on the whole). But the only correct, of course, would be Scriabin’s own understanding of it (judging from the above composer’s characteristics of the scales from A and C, that is: tone, tone, tone, tone-and-half, semitone). Besides, it is known that the composer defined this chord as stable tonic ten-three chord with elevated eleventh – but not the altered dominant ninth chord, assuming resolution into tonic, as some researchers interpret it [13].

As the composer said, he constructed this chord at first in a traditional way, arranging in thirds from the fundamental, and then in fourths, omitting the seventh note (g in tonality c), i.e. chord’s fifth in the third’s layout. Just that way the chord appeared consisting of six notes. The occasional appearance of seven notes complexes in "Prometheus" score results just from the restoration of that fifth [14].

On the base of these theses we have made harmony analysis of "Prometheus" as a whole. And it turned out that all over the score the notes of mobile voice of "Luce" are not simply convenient symbols to designate colors (in which case digits of letters might be used). This mobile voice represents by itself the succession of fundamentals, placed as indicators of a tonalities, which are to be colored according the composer’s color- tonality correspondence scale. (And since Scriabin considered his scale as having universal meaning, he probably found it unnecessary to indicate what color corresponds to each particular note).

It’s noteworthy, by the way, that the fate has offered unexpected yet excellent chance to prove our initial assumptions. Not all of 606 measures of "Prometheus", showed positive results when tested. In 25 measures (N 111-112, 122, 124, 153-154, 155-156, 159, 222, 251-255, 264, 410, 414, 453, 459, 479, 488, 504, 569, 589) the chord either did not coincide with "Luce" or simply did not lend itself to analysis. But in the rest 581 measures the coincidence is present and it cannot be a mere chance! The common sense prompts that it’s the absence of coincidence that has to be casual and in each case can be explained probably by the misprint in the editions of "Luce" or miswriting made by Scriabin himself.

Examination of score (1963 year edition) has confirmed that in piano score the measure 414 contains obvious misprint and instead of "doubtful" note ais there should be a. Analogously, checking of "doubtful" measure 488, "prompted" by "Luce" line, allowed us to find out the misprint in the score itself, where flat sign was mistakenly attached to c instead of h. In the measures 122, 159, 251-255, 453, 459, 539 the misprints have been found in "Luce", originating from the editions of 1911 and 1963 years. All that came to light in the course of collation of these editions with author’s manuscript of the score and proof-sheets, in which the notes in "Luce" appeared to be just the same as we supposed on the basis of our analysis of harmony. (Other cases of non- coincidence may be caused by Scriabin’s own miswritings and can be easily explained – for example, the casual shift of the note to the next line, or the lapse of note change at the ends of binding sections, etc.).

Thus, these misprints, which we used as an objective test, have finally proved that, indeed, in the mobile voice of "Luce" line the fundamentals of harmony are entered. These conclusions also allow one to explain some controversial points in other researchers’ deciphering attempts.

The above-mentioned fact of coincidence between the notes of lighting part and bass of harmony relates to those places in the score, when the fundamental of harmony is sounding in bass. But the chords are often given by Scriabin in inversion, and the researchers were getting confused and started to seek for another, non-existent links between music and "Luce". Meanwhile, as we have clarified, in "Prometheus" the change of colors synchronically and invariably follows the change of tonalities. In certain moments, yet not always, the tonal shift may coincide with the change of either theme, or episode, or timbre. But it has nothing to do with "poly- functionality of color" or deliberate coloring of timbres, themes and episodes…

Regarding slow voice of "Luce": Sabaneyev recorded Scriabin’s words, that the movement of this voice from spiritual Fis to material C and back to Fis embodies certain philosophical program and that that movement is also connected with the modulation plan of a composition, a general plan in this case. While the biographer Sabaneyev scrupulously recorded these words, the musicologist Sabaneyev lifted his hands in confusion – already in the first chord the note of slow voice was "homeless" for him, because it "does not determine harmony in any way". And later, for unknown reason, the notes of slow voice remain for a space of many measures, while mobile voice sometimes coincides with it, sometimes goes aside. Sabaneyev failed to detect any logic in all these relations. As for us, we have noticed, that mobile voice is not just wandering nearby, but circling the slow voice (which plays the role of momentary center) along the orbit of minor thirds. These conventional "centers" of minor thirds circles, being arranged into whole-tone scale (from Fis to Fis), constitute tonal "framework" of composition, that actually determines in main points the trajectory of development of real mobile modulation plan. Thus, within the context of lighting music ideas we may conclude: in "Prometheus" Scriabin applied just and only the principles of color visualization of tonal plan ("real" and general ones) on the base of his system of color-tonality analogies. Light-musical "Prometheus" does not deserve that Castel’s followers would favour it with humiliating attention, due to mere misunderstanding. Neither it needs false claim to extra merits, for which embodiment it simply was not designed (image-bearing colors and counterpoint Scriabin planned to introduce only later, in his unfinished work "Acte Prealable"). No less interesting are the results of "Luce" genesis and structure study for the musicology itself. Their comparison with the harmony analysis of "Prometheus" music reveals the exclusiveness of the situation – the "Luce" line, irrespective of light-music plan, may be considered as composer’s own documentation of his understanding of "Prometheus" harmony.

In our view, this fact may prove one of the last theoretical conceptions of harmony, namely the one which states that Scriabin of "Prometheus" period used a system of new modes, the central element of which was "dissonant tonic" [15], or, in other words, the modes, based on "dissonant chord-interval construction", playing the role of "tonal center" [16].

Finally, we dare say that the understanding of lighting line "Luce" as indirect decoding of "Prometheus" harmony, made by the composer himself, may clarify some of the issues relating Scriabin’s later harmony, which are discussed up to now.


  1. These analogies, not without some suggestive influences, had been transformed by Scriabin in rather clear system of correspondences: "colors of spectrum, disposed in a circle – tonalities, disposed in a circle of fifths": C-dur - red, G-dur - orange-pink, D-dur - bright yellow, A-dur - green, E-dur and H-dur - whitish- blue, Fis-dur - bright blue, Des-dur - violet, As-dur - purple-violet, Es-dur and B-dur - glitter of metal, F-dur - red. (See: L. Sabaneyev. Scriabin.
    - Moscow: Gosizdat, 1923, p.177). For more details see articles: L. Sabaneyev. On sound-color correspondence. - "Muzyka", 1911, N9; C. Myers. Two cases of synaesthesia.
    - The British Journal of Psychology, vol. VII, part I, May, 1914; I. Vanechkina. On color hearing of A. N. Scriabin. - In: Proceedings of III Conference "Light and Music", Kazan, 1975.
  2. See: L. Sabaneyev. On sound-color correspondence; "Prometheus" of Scriabin. - "Muzyka", 1911, NN 9 and 13.
  3. L. Sabaneyev. Scriabin and phenomenon of color hearing in connection with lighting symphony "Prometheus". - "Muzykalnyi sovremennik", 1916, N 4-5; Scriabin. – Moscow: Gosizdat, 1923, p.181.
  4. This, in fact, is authentic record of Scriabin’s own words, having been made by L. Sabaneyev. For those who either "did not believe" this document or simply was unaware of it’s existence, the division of voices in "Luce" appeared to be considerable difficulty. The reason is, Scriabin used for color’s notation the notes of a single octave, and in the case of coincidence of the two voices he simply omitted one of them (the slow one).
  5. See: G. Rimsky-Korsakov. Deciphering of the lighting line in Scriabin’s "Prometheus". – In: "De musica". Number 2. Leningrad, 1926.
  6. See: F.Yur’ev. Music of Light. – Kiev, 1971.
  7. Yu. Rugs, E. Nazaikinsky. On the artistic potentials of music and color synthesis. In collected articles "Musical art and science", Number 1, Moscow, 1970.
  8. See articles, published in the collection "A. N. Scriabin", Moscow, 1973.
  9. By the way, L. Mazel characterizes this complex as kind of "series". (See: "Problems of classical harmony". – Moscow: 1972, p.517-518). See also: Z. Lissa. Do genezy akordu prometejskiego A. N. Skrjabina. - "Muzyka", IV, 1959.
  10. L. Sabaneyev. Reminiscences on Scriabin. – Moscow: Gosizdat, p.220.
  11. See: GTzMMK, F31, N 130.
  12. L. Danilevich. From the Third symphony to "Prometheus". – In collected articles "A. N. Scriabin". Ibid., p.312; Yu. Rugs, E. Nazaikinsky. On artistic potentials of music and color synthesis. Ibid., p.186.
  13. V. Dernova. Harmony of Scriabin. – Leningrad, 1968, p.42. By the way, it’s noteworthy that our former definition of this chord as altered dominant ninth chord was conditioned by terminology inertia only and in no way excluded its understanding as stable, tonic one. See: I. Vanechkina. On light-music ideas of Scriabin. – In: "Problems of history, theory of music and musical education". Number 2. Kazan, KGPI, 1972.
  14. See: Autograph of Scriabin. GTzMMK, F31, N 130; L. Sabaneyev. Reminiscences on Scriabin, p.220.
  15. Yu. Kholopov. Essays on modern harmony. – Moscow: 1974, p.178-187; E. Meskhishwili. Harmony of later sonatas of Scriabin. – In collected articles "Problems of musical science". – Moscow: 1972, p.52-56.
  16. L. Mazel. Problems of classical harmony. Ibid., p.490- 496, 517-518.

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