Saturday, July 5, 2008

Alexander Scriabin' s Mysterium

Alexander Scriabin

Alex Ross writes in The Rest is Noise, maybe the best book about music ever written, about the daring reexamination of the chord in orchestral music at the dawn of the twentieth century and has this to say about Scriabin:

In Russia, the composer-pianist Alexander Scriabin , who was under the influence of Theosophist spiritualism, devised a harmonic language that vibrated around a "mystic chord" of six notes; hi unfinished magnum opus Mysterium, slated for a premiere at the foot of the Himalayas, was to have brought about nothing less than the annihilation of the universe, whence men and women would reemerge as astral souls, relieved of sexual difference and other bodily limitations.
That I need to hear! Forget a bunch of church burning Tolkein-enthusiast Norwegian metal nihilists; their corpse paint and weapon-festooned photo shoots cannot hold a candle to Scriabin's aims.

At the foot of the Himalayas!
Puts old Yanni, flashing lights on the Acropolis, to shame.

Scriabin experienced synesthesia, a condition where experiences in one sense trigger an effect in another, most commonly portrayed as seeing colors when music plays. According to Wikipedia, creating a full spectrum transmogrification was the goal of his final piece:

Scriabin planned that the work would be synesthetic, exploiting the senses of smell and touch as well as hearing. He wrote that

"There will not be a single spectator. All will be participants. The work requires special people, special artists and a completely new culture. The cast of performers includes an orchestra, a large mixed choir, an instrument with visual effects, dancers, a procession, incense, and rhythmic textural articulation. The cathedral in which it will take place will not be of one single type of stone but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium. This will be done with the aid of mists and lights, which will modify the architectural contours."

Scriabin intended that the performance of this work, to be given in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, would last seven days and would be followed by the end of the world, with the human race replaced by "nobler beings".

Scriabin began work on this piece in 1903, and it remained unfinished at his death in 1915, but click here to experience that chord, if you dare bring about the imminent destruction of all humanity with its playing, that is.

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