Vanechkina I.L.

The creative work of the composer Scriabin and the painter Chiurlionis, who lived and worked in Russia at the beginning of the century, is considered. The features, likeness and difference of their ideas concerning the art synthesis and interaction (specifically, in the field of "music vision") are especially stressed.


The comparison of the creative work of Russian composer Scriabin and the contemporary painters within the context of their allied interests in the idea of "Gesamtkunstwerk" (specifically, the unity of music and painting) has been a subject of researches long since. In spite of this, there were few special publications on this theme, especially in Russia, for the obvious reason that there has been no opportunity to mention openly in the "positive sense" the names of Kandinsky, Matiushin, Baranov-Rossine, etc., at least in official editions, up to the recent ten years [1; 2]. Chiurlionis was more "lucky" in this sense. Almost all the monographs on Scriabin are concerned with Chiurlionis' artworks, although, mostly, in short. And much more obligatory are the references to Scriabin in the literature devoted to his outstanding Lithuanian colleague and like-minded artist.

In the West the name of Chiurlionis is less known. This can be seen, for instance, from "Leonardo" publications: there was only one article on Chiurlionis [3], and much more articles on Scriabin ([4, 5], and the special "Prometheus" issue - "Leonardo", v.27, N 5, 1994). Nevertheless, it would be worth noting the following fact, which is of prime importance within the context of our research work. Let it is concern of Russian editions only, but it has already become a commonplace to put side by side the names "Scriabin - Chiurlionis" in the researches on light-music art and its origins. Usually it is stated in the popular literature that the first step towards light-music was done by Scriabin "on the part of music" and by Chiurlionis "on the part of painting". And it is particularly underlined that the origin and realization of "light-symphony" (in Scriabin's works) and "musical painting" (in Chiurlionis' works) took place almost "synchronically" - in the first decade of the 20th century. Of course, they were contemporaries, though they never met each other. It is a matter of fact that Scriabin knew Chiurlionis from his paintings. Moreover, the biographer of Scriabin mentions the painter's name in the row of his "favourite persons". He wrote in the well-known memoirs: "One day A.N. went to Chiurlionis' art exhibition and was very excited by his works. The strange hallucinative pictures of this artist charmed him. But there was no complete spiritual response because, to Scriabin's opinion, "Chiurlionis is too illusive, lacks an actual power, he does not want his dream to become a reality." [6, p.144,248]. There are no evidences that Chiurlionis was familiar with Scriabin's music and his colour music ideas. Thus, they moved towards the same aim but by different ways and independently. Nevertheless, their fates, world outlooks and even artworks have so much in common that some parallels in their creative work come to one's mind inevitably.

To begin with, both of them were the outstanding musicians who have got the world's recognition. Both were the versatile talents. Chiurlionis graduated from two conservatoirs (in Warsaw and in Leipzig) and also from the Art School in Warsaw. He created more than 200 musical compositions and dozens of paintings. In some sense Chiurlionis was also a writer, as one can remember his poetic versifications of the fairy-tales [7]. Scriabin, likewise, was not only a composer and pianist but also the author of philosophy-poetic texts for his music compositions. It is necessary to note that his conception of a new synthetic art reveals, to some extent, his potentials as a light-painter, though he had not enough time for mastering in practice. Besides this, both of them had a strongly expressed inclination for symbolic, associative mode of thinking, the ability to perceive music "visually", plastically and in certain colours (that was, in terms of that time, "colour hearing" and, what is noteworthy, was of more systematic nature in Scriabin). (See rather intricate discussions of Chiurlionis' colour hearing in [8, p.213; 9, p.41] ).

The world outlook of Chiurlionis and Scriabin was formed at the same period of time and in the same social surroundings when, side by side with the triumph of faith in science and the revolutionary and radical tendencies, in the intelligentsia strata the various idealistic attitudes of mind had been spread. Like nowadays, spiritism, occultism and the God-seekers' movement came into fashion. Both Chiurlionis and Scriabin (the latter more actively) took great interest in the progress of political and social life. And although these interests of them had different determinations, they both sympathized for the Russian revolution of 1905 and, we may even say, declared it aloud. Let us remember the hints at never printed dedication to Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy". Whereas Chiurlionis, not participating in the "revolutionary-liberating activities", embodied his ideals of democracy in his artistic creative work, namely, in the diptych "Sorrow". (These facts used to be gladly emphasized in the old Soviet times.)

Whatever it may be, the philosophical outlook played a great role in Chiurlionis' creative work (so as in Scriabin's). His education and, especially, early aroused interest in natural science "corrected" the naive faith he had got in his childhood and aroused his aspiration for a more deep cognition of the essence of human being. According to the evidences of the contemporaries, Chiurlionis had a keen interest in the religions of the ancient eastern peoples, particularly, of the ancient Indians (apropos, so as Scriabin had), studied the theoretical works of the philosophers and psychologists of the late 19 century - Wundt, Nietzsche, etc. As a result, to the modern researchers opinion, in the mind of the artist a peculiar world outlook was formed that assumed the existence of the higher spiritual community or power that gives a sense to the Universe. The statements of the artist himself, and also the symbolic and ideological content of some of his works, give evidence for that. It is impossible to frame Chiurlionis' philosophical views into clear-cut formulations because they appear to be a specific artistic outlook, in which an emotional and intuitive perception dominates. (This has obviously much in common with the world outlook of Scriabin, though for the latter the position of creative ego was more accented. At the same time, Scriabin's philosophical views were more deep, well thought-out, "polished", and they were directly realized in his creative work.) (See our work [10].)

To put it more concrete, the development of the initial artistic inclinations in young Chiurlionis was notably influenced by the late romantic and symbolist art widely spread at that time. He was keen on the creative work of such artists as A.Boecklin, F.Stuck, M.Klinger, O.Berdsley and such writers as Y.Slovatzky, G.Ibsen, A.Andreev, E.Po. The circle of cultural interests of Scriabin was very much alike, but, personally, it was limited mainly to his close and attentive surroundings. And, to be serious, it is necessary to note that both of them had symbolist moods of the specific life-asserting ind coupled with the high pathos of "creation of the world" (which was organically connected with the conception of cosmism expressed equally in their artworks).

While comparing the aspirations for ideas of "Gesamtkunstwerk" in the great Russian composer and the great Lithuanian painter, it is impossible to pass by a comparison (though in short) of their musical creative work. This will also give us an opportunity to find out some parallels.

Both Chiurlionis and Scriabin gave their frank sympathes to Chopin and Wagner and, beside that, to Bach. Chopin's influence is the most evidently traceable in their compositions. It is noticeable even from such formal indication as their inclination to piano miniature. Let us remind that Scriabin never created solo compositions for any instruments except piano and the two thirds of Chiurlionis' musical heritage are piano pieces (and surely they may be considered as the most original embodiments of his musical ideas). The closeness is also notable in their common substantial ideas. The image system of Chiurlionis' music, according to the opinion of the researchers, has two main inherent states: burst and serenity. And in Scriabin's music there is a similar polar opposition: ecstasy and languor. Especially brightly their innovatory similarity manifested itself in the area of harmony. (Although it is obvious that Chiurlionis, as the first professional Lithuanian musician, was more restricted in this direction, being engaged in the mission "to arrange music composed by the folk"). It is characteristic of Scriabin's creative work of late period that he used the complicated tonic as a whole complex of 6-7 sounds, interpreted harmony as a rolled up melody and vice versa. Chiurlionis' harmony of late period is also characterized by the complicated tonic, nonsymmetrical modes, the use of the series principle. It is necessary to note here that there was neither any interaction between the two composers, nor any hypothetical influence of Schoenberg on them [7, p.311; 8, p.59].

To continue the analysis of the influences experienced by Scriabin and Chiurlionis, it is obvious that they both were strongly impressed by Wagner's ideas of the art synthesis. They both inclined to the synthetic genres. Scriabin has a day-dream, idee fixe: it was "Mysteria". And Chiurlionis dreamed of creation of the first Lithuanian national opera. It had to be entitled "Yurate - the Queen of Baltic". Especially it is necessary to note here that their creative work had similar sources in the ethic ideal of high morality: to create the first art work of such "unifying" kind for his nation in the case of Chiurlionis, and for the whole mankind - in the case of Scriabin. Neither of them had had enough time to realize these plans. There are left only the designs of Scriabin's "Preliminary Action" and Chiurlionis' opera libretto. But on the way to these art works they both created original symphonic compositions.

Chiurlionis composed the one-movement symphonic poems "In the Forest" and "The Sea". And Scriabin turned from the ordinary multi-part symphonies to the symphonic poems - "The poem of Ecstasy" and "Prometheus" ("The Poem of Fire"). Another two scores (and one of them - the poem "The Creation of the World") had been lost during the war. By the way, the above mentioned Chiurlionis' program composition had kind of "parallel" literary and pictorial embodiments (the pictorial triptych "The Sea Sonata", the poetic text "The Sea Tales"). Although, to note it particularly, he never fell into the trivial music-painting inter-illustration (as some people think).

Meanwhile, Scriabin found another embodiment for the joint (gesamt) usage of the various means, forms of the art thinking: their interaction was realized within the bounds of the single composition.. The philosophical program is embodied in "Prometheus" not only by means of music (including man's voice) but also with the help of picturesque colourful light organized in the course of time according to the laws of music, musical form. So, to make a conclusion, we may assert, that even a short comparison of the lives and creative work of these two artists, confirms that they had very much in common. Within the context of the main interests of our research work, this is their common aspiration for the art synthesis, though the results of this aspiration appeared to be different: Scriabin demonstrated the real synthesis of heterogeneous art means, while Chiurlionis' synthesis was rather an interosculation of the languages of various kinds of art thinking.

Fig.1. The beginning of the score of Scriabin's "Prometheus"
(on the top - the line "Luce", i.e. "Light")


Fig.2. This is the simplest "light instrument", which Scriabin had to use in developing a new art.

We more than once analyzed the subjective factors that led Scriabin to the idea of light-music synthesis and the ways his intentions were realized in his creative work. To remind in short, in "Prometheus" the colour dynamics "visualized" the tonality-harmony plan which, in turn, was the "sound embodiment" of the composition philosophical program. [11]. Let us consider, in more details, how the interaction of arts was actually revealed and, first of all, what served as the basis of Chiurlionis' "musical painting"? This is of course, the congeniality in both fields of art and, correspondingly, the brilliant associative thinking of the artist. The free wielding of the material in both fields of art enabled Chiurlionis to expand their limits extraordinarily without breaking them. The most amazingly it showed in painting. Even in the early period of his creative work he painted the cycles of pictures united by a common idea, theme. Such is, for example, the cycle of seven pictures under the title "Funeral" (or "The Funeral Symphony" as it had been named at first). The musicality of the cycle is manifested not only by its title. Chiurlionis used here the principle of the pictorial idea development in the course of time, when the paintings are to be viewed in a certain sequence. Then, the cycle reveals the development and collision of two images (contrasting in their senses and colouring simultaneously) - the Sun as a symbol of Life and the Coffin as a symbol of Death. But it is notable that later on Chiurlionis removed the word "symphony" out from the title: probably, he did not want it to be understood as a trivial metaphor only. And the musicality of the artwork was not so obvious then. But the later works of the painter - when he become determined in his unusual intention to unite musical and pictorial mode of thinking - exhibit much more consequent, deep and even adequate embodiment of the musicality principle in painting.

The picture "Fugue" is rather demonstrative in this respect. It is noteworthy that, according the painter's intention, it has to be perceived in the course of time, like music. During this process the glance moves along the picture not only horizontally (as it is natural for multi-part composition ) but also vertically, from down up. Viewing it this way we can clearly discern three parts in it, just like in the most of musical fugues. As it is known, musical fugue is a polyphonic composition in which the major melody (theme) is repeated (imitated) in all voices and accompanied by less significant one or two melodies (counterparts), depending on how many voices the fugue consists of. For a change the theme is often stated in a mirror image, or in condensed form (stretta), when the beginning of theme in one voice is laid on its end in the other.

Fig.3. The picture "Fugue" by M.-K. Chiurlionis.

The central image in Chiurlionis' "Fugue", its theme, is a fir-tree. On the lower part of the picture - in the exposition (by analogy with music) it dominates (has larger size and more dark colour). It is accompanied by the images of Lithuanian fairy-tale kings sitting in sorrow; but their colouring is more pale, less significant, likely to the counterpart in music. The exposition with its main images smoothly flows into the elaboration that is of a larger scale and more light colouring. It has analogy to music - the elaboration development is usually characterized by intensive tonal modulation that changes the colouring of the theme.

The third part of the picture - a reprise - is very clearly delimited. Just as it is in music, the artist applied here more efficient and constructive means - stretta and the mirror reflection of the theme at the same time. Contrary to real optical laws, the fir-tree does not reflect in the water exactly opposite, but with a displacement, similarly to the themes in the fugue music.

The artist's conversion to the fugue form, in his first attempt to master a new approach in painting, was not occasional. Fugue is one of the most clearly constructed musical forms. Usually in music it serves as a laboratory of composer, where he perfects his skill. Also we would remind you that, for Chiurlionis as a composer, fugue was one of the most favourite musical forms.

His conversion to sonata form in painting was not occasional too. Being the multi-part composition, sonata gives an opportunity to develop an idea in a long duration and to use contrast as one of the main means of development.

As an example, let us analyze the first work of the cycle "The Sun Sonata" (1907). It consists of four pictures entitled "Allegro", "Andante", "Scherzo", "Final" , which is the complete analog of the classical sonata structure in music. These analogies are very clearly observed also in the principle of the pictorial material arrangement, in tonal and thematic contrasting, etc. For example, in the first picture - "Allegro" - the two images are present: The Sun (the main part, by analogy with music) and The Castle (the side part). They are contrasting in their colour (yellow and blue), similarly to tonal contrasting of two themes in music (the main part is in the basic, and the side-line is in the dominant tonality). In the picture the three parts are clearly read (if it is viewed from down up), similarly to the musical form of sonata's allegro - exposition, elaboration and reprise (the elaboration, likely to music, being twice as much in size as reprise). Also noteworthy is the colouring convergence of the two themes in the reprise (like in music, where both themes usually sound in the same tonality). The tempo's contrast is also equivalently embodied by pictorial means. The slow rhythm of broad sun beams is clearly associated with slow tempo of the second parts of musical sonatas. The fourth part of the cycle - "Final" - is of particular interest. In the music of Vienna classics the final preferably had the form of rondo (circle). In the picture there is painted a bell, which tongue is wound round with a spiderweb. On the border of the bell, imitatively to music reprise, the diminished images of the previous three parts are placed.

Chiurlionis' next "Sonatas" were created also in accordance with the same laws of musical form, though the musical idea was interpreted in a various ways. In some of them he stepped closer to music ("The Spring Sonata"), while in the others he sort of tried "to stay within the bounds of painting" ("The Sea Sonata"). But the value of all Chiurlionis' pictorial "sonatas" lies in the fact that they can be conceived as an original painting by the one who does not even comprehend nor understand all the fine points of the musical form manifestation in them. Being fantastic and not ordinary, this painting always reflects the shapes of the real world, though in a symbolic and cosmicremote form.

Fig.4. One part of a pictorial "Sonata of Pyramids" by Chiurlionis.

To our opinion, those Chiurlionis' pictorial works are of particular interest, which have much in common with Scriabin's musical works also in respect of their content. Among the pictorial works of the medium period Chiurlionis had a cycle inspired by the dream of harmony and beauty - "The Creation of the World" (1905-1906). It consists of 13 paintings. The following to the Bible legend shows only at the very beginning, in the third painting: an enormous hand stretches through the space. "Let it be" - is written in the corner of the picture. And the light is being borned, and the life together with it: the sea corals, mushrooms, flowers. The world is filling with colour and light. It is moving from chaos towards harmony. In the 12th painting this harmonic principle is symbolized by the harps. In the last painting there is a shadow of a wise, according to Lithuanian mythology, Grass-snake. The evolution from Chaos - through Beauty and Harmony - towards Mind is obvious.

It seemed interesting to us to compare this Chiurlionis' cycle with Scriabin's "Prometheus" and make sure of their "unplanned", unexpected likeness. Indeed, the pathos of Chiurlionis' cycle is in the creativity, the creation of the world. Scriabin's "Prometheus" also is not a mere illustration of the myth, and the main theme of "The Poem of Fire" is the creation of Spirit, his triumph. Finally, both Scriabin and Chiurlionis had made a hymn to creation power.

This hymnic idea was embodied in Chiurlionis' artworks in the transition from graphical contrasts of the dead forms and planes towards the complex elaborated composition, towards the motion of triumphant light. Just as the beginning of Scriabin's "Prometheus" symbolizes the initial chaos, the initial undivided spiritual being that transits through the stage of materialization and then ascends again (the Spirit - the matter - the Spirit). The thematic principle is expressed in the last two paintings of Chiurlionis' cycle - this is the Harmony and the Mind (the Harp and the Grass-snake). And Scriabin's "Prometheus" has two main images - the theme of "Creating Principle" and the theme of "Mind". To add in conclusion: the colour scale in Chiurlionis' paintings changes from black-blue somber cosmic chaos, through light green, to bright colourfull flowering, while in Scriabin's "Luce" score of "Prometheus" a slow light-voice moves from violet through blue part of pectrum to red and then, again, to violet. In a mere schematic sense, the colour cycle appears to be closed. But, as we know it from the reminiscences of contemporaries, Scriabin planned a dazzling light in the final of "Prometheus", on the contrary to the actual "Luce" design. So, once again - from dark to light.

Thus, the closeness, similarity, is obvious even in such details. This confirms Roerich's reflections expressed in passing in his article on Chiurlionis in 1936: "Scriabin and Chiurlionis have much in common. And the very tempers of these two geniuses have many allied streaks... Owing to their singularity and convincingness, both these artists, each in his own field, stirred up a great number of young minds" (cited from [12, p.139]. These "own fields" are very distinct just in the manifestations of their aspiration to the art synthesis. This is Scriabin whom we call "a pioneer of light-music". Chiurlionis was not directly connected with light-music. Though, according to some popular edition, his idea of "musical painting" was inspired by the description of "colour music" in a "Clue to the Mysteries of Nature" - the book written by German mystic of 18 century Ecchartshousen [13, p.97]. The author of the first Russian work on Chiurlionis (published even before 1917) reminds of the experiments with "Chladni figures", that is close to light-music [14 p.5]. No, the "musical painting" of the outstanding Lithuanian is not light-music, it is painting, though organized according to the laws of musical mode of thinking and form. (The only and rather small reason to assert his advance and eventual coming to the light music is the draft of the scene design for opera "Yurate", which he did not put on the stage by himself: "Everything must appear gradually, the more light every next moment - the music follows light and gradually comes to an end" [15, p.240]). But, to consider it in terms of wide aesthetic categories, the significance of Chiurlionis for the development of various real forms of audiovisual (painting-musical) synthesis is, of course, undoubtful. And the value of his "musical painting" is also apparent and recognized. (Romen Rolland named it as "new spiritual continent" and Chiurlionis himself as "Columbus"). Of course, we may imagine, in a genre of mental experiment, what things might have happened if such composers as Scriabin and artists as Chiurlionis or Kandinsky had united in one project. But the history of art, just as the history on the whole, does not have the subjunctive mood. Thus, we have to wait and work by ourselves...


  1. Vanechkina I. L. Where does "The Blue Rider" Gallop? (Schoenberg, Kandinsky and Scriabin: on the synthesis of art). - In: Schoenberg and Kandinsky. An historic encounter. - Haag, Harwood acad. publ., 1998.
  2. Levaya T. N. Scriabin and the new Russian painting: from Modernism to Abstractionism. In: "Nizhegorodsky Scriabin's Almanac", N1. - Nizhny Novgorod, 1994. (in Russian)
  3. Fedotov V. M. Polyphony in the Paintings of M. K. Chiurlionis. - "Leonardo", v.28, N 1, 1995, pp. 83-86.
  4. Galeyev B. M.The Fire of Prometheus... - "Leonardo", v.21, N 4, pp.383-396.
  5. Galeyev B. M.The Conference on Scriabin. - "Leonardo", v.26, N 1, 1994, pp.5-6.
  6. Sabaneyev L. The Reminiscences on Scriabin. - Moscow: Rosmusizdat, 1925. (in Russian)
  7. Rosiner F. The Art of Chiurlionis. - Moscow: Terra, 1993. (in Russian)
  8. Landsbergis V. The Spring Sonata: the Creative Work of M. K. Chiurlionis. - Leningrad: Muzyka, 1971. (in Russian)
  9. Fedotov V. M. The Musical Basement of Chiurlionis' Creative Method. - Saratov: Saratov State University Press, 1989. (in Russian)
  10. Vanechkina I. L., Galeev B. M. The Poem of Fire (Scriabin's Conception of the Light-Music Synthesis). - Kazan: Kazan State University Press, 1981. (in Russian)
  11. Vanechkina I. L. "Luce" - the Beam That Lightens the Problem of Harmony in Late Scriabin. - In: A. N. Scriabin (Man, Artist, Thinker). - Moscow, 1994. (in Russian)
  12. Etkind M. The World as a Great Symphony. - Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1970. (in Russian)
  13. Voronova O. The Native Land, Lithuania... - In: As the Century Goes by, vol. 2. - Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya, 1969. (in Russian)
  14. Leman B. A. Chiurlionis. - Petrograd, 1917. (in Russian)
  15. Chiurlionis M. K. On Music and Painting. - Vilnius: Vaga, 1960. (in Russian)
Available for publication in foreign journals.