Alexander Scriabin


Keys arranged in a circle of fifths in order to show the spectral relationship.

Though Scriabin’s works are often considered to be influenced by synesthesia, a condition wherein one experiences sensation in one sense in response to stimulus in another, it is doubted that he actually experienced this. His colour system, unlike most synesthetic experience, accords with the circle of fifths: it was a thought-out system based on Sir Isaac Newton’s Opticks. Note that Scriabin did not, for his theory, recognize a difference between a major and a minor tonality of the same name (for example: c-minor and C-Major). Indeed, influenced also by the doctrines of theosophy, he developed his system of synesthesia toward what would have been a pioneering multimedia performance: his unrealized magnum opus Mysterium was to have been a grand week-long performance including music, scent, dance, and light in the foothills of the Himalayas Mountains that was somehow to bring about the dissolution of the world in bliss.


Scriabin’s original colour keyboard, with its associated turntable of coloured lamps, is preserved in his apartment near the Arbat in Moscow, which is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.


The idea that you don’t understand where music comes from, or that you think Classical music happens to be the province of dusty, white-wigged old farts, is nothing to do with what the music is, it’s a misapprehension on your part, it’s a failure of imagination, and worse than that it’s snobbery. It’s rank snobbery. You think you’re better than that ‘cause you’re young, you’re cool. Well, I’ve never heard more snobbery, in music, than amongst young people’s music. You know what it’s like when you’re fourteen, and you dare to have a party, and you put music on, and a fifteen-year-old says ‘You call THAT music? What shit is this?’, and the band you thought was cool, they’ve pointed out, ISN’T cool. That’s where the real snobbery in music lies. That’s where the terror lies, in thinking they have to conform to some idea of what is or what isn’t right.

Stephen Fry, arguing against the motion ‘This House believes that classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth’