Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973
Prometheus, The Poem of Fire: Alexander Scriabin. Soloist Vladimir Ashkenazy with the London Philarhominc Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel. Reviewed by Gordon Campbell. Decca Recording
Prometheus, The Poem of Fire: Alexander Scriabin. Soloist Vladimir Ashkenazy with the London Philarhominc Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel. Reviewed by Gordon Campbell. Decca Recording.
With some artists it gets hard to judge their music apart from the ideas you've built about their personality. I mean, with Dylan, is it music or his personality that you respond to? It's impossible to separate what he does from who he is. The person, the voice, the performance, the composition all just flow together. No one signs Dylan like Dylan, right? Because no one else is Dylan, and that's half the show.
Scriabin is a similar case. I'm not sure how' much of the unearthly quality I hear in his music comes from what I've heard of the mad, mystic elements in his personality. From his earliest works Scriabin glorified art as a form of religion, and his final sketches for his planned "Mystery" described it as "a liturgical act" in which "music, poetry, dancing, colours and perfume" were to be used "to unite performers and audience in one supreme, final ecstacy." His Third Symphony was intended to represent "the evolution of the human spirit from pantheism to unity with the universe," and many other works, such as "The Poem of Ecstacy" and this one under review have similar theosophical programmes.
In his original score for "Prometheus" Scriabian included a part for "colour organ". On the keyboard for this instrument each note had a certain colour valve, worked out by analogy between the number of vibrations by which the ear recognises pitch, and the number of vibrations which the eye must receive to distinguish a particular tint. As the regular pianist played the piece the colour pianist projected the note-colours onto a large screen behind the orchestra. The ancestor of the light show. This was back in 1908. But there were problems. Chords of bright individual notes would combine to produce a muddy white, and the colour pianist, of course, could not be sensitive to the difference between a pianissimo and fortissimo note. Modern light shows aim to respond to the main emotional directness of the music, a much more sensible and accurate idea.
Near the end of his life, Scriabin tended to justify Rimskey—Korsakov's claim that he was half out of his mind. He set himself up as a messiah, whose function was "to sound the final chord of our race, reuniting it with Spirit". Theosophists claim his death at 43, from an infected cold sore on his lip, was due to the Dark Powers, who were a little uneasy about this "Mystery" thing he was planning.
So we're left with just the music. And who better to play it than Vladimir Ashkenazy, who has been carrying out a one-man campaign to get Scriabin recognised as a composser of the first rank. Whether you arc interested in the theosophy or the music "Prometheus" is the best example of both. But its not easy music. It takes a little time and energy to become aware of the ethereal elegance, that strange sense of timelessness between the notes. Ashkenazy calls it "space music"; which catches it pretty well. Or as a theosophist friend said the other week "you gotta pick up on this Scriabin cat, because man he's really in contact with the other side."