First page of annotated score.
The seven main themes of Prométhée
with the corresponding shapes.
Tongues of multicoloured fire...
When Skryabin wrote Prometheus, there was no technology to realise
his ideas, as Rimington's instrument could at the best give a faint shadow
of what the composer had in mind. What he did have in mind exactly, is
very hard to know, and quite an amount of research was done to find out.
A score from 1913, with numerous annotations, proved to be a highly valuable
source. They were noted down during a lunch in Moscow, in Leonid Sabaneyev's
handwriting but dictated by the composer.
This score, preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris,
contains exhaustive indications to the realisation of the luce part. Also,
it contains the most detailed description known of the colours corresponding
to the notes in the score.
Skryabin imagined his note-colour relationship purely intuitively and
subjectively. However, there is a certain logic to his approach, projecting
the circle of colours more or less onto the circle of fifths. Attempts
have been made to see a direct relationship between light frequency and
sound frequency. This would result in a chromatic scale of colours (C red,
C sharp purple and so on). However, neighbouring chromatic tones are dissonant,
whereas neighbouring colour frequencies give harmonious relationships.
Considering the fifth as the most consonant interval within the octave,
it seems plausible to let it represent neighbouring colours.
There has been some misunderstanding around details of the colour scale
conceived by Skryabin. This is due to variants of the scale as transmitted
by his friend and intimate Sabaneyev, and to faulty translations of the
colour names. In this project the variant of the annotated score was chosen.
Some of the indications in this score refer to the purity (saturation)
or, on the contrary, to the paleness of some colour-notes, making it desirable
at certain points to modulate the basic colours of the scheme towards white/grey
or toward a neighbouring colour.
Other indications in this very interesting document refer to the shape
of colour patterns and the separation of the two independent voices. The
two voices of the luce part indeed need to be strictly separated. The upper
voice follows the fundamental of the harmony that is heard at any given
moment. It changes relatively quickly; sometimes in a very fast tempo.
This voice is the light counterpart of the music itself; it is the synaesthetic
representation of the audible parts in the score.
The lower voice offers a completely independent counterpoint to this
constantly changing colour. In this voice, the colour changes only 6 times
during the whole piece, apart from a couple of rests. A passing note (E
sharp) in bar 459 is due to a misprint in the first edition, and the number
of notes is hence 7, a divine number. In fact this voice is full of metaphysical
significance. It makes a slow ascent from F sharp in whole-tone steps,
ending with the final F sharp; or rather a circular movement through the
colour wheel of Skryabin by double steps, representing the pure colours.
The pitches don't correspond to any musical element except for the final
F sharp major chord but symbolise the steps in the evolution of the human
race: the spirit (blue, F sharp) becomes matter and human struggle (red,
C) which again transcend into spirit. This voice should in no way mingle
with the colours of the upper voice, except at certain points. It should
be omnipresent as a kind of overall background, growing in intensity from
a barely visible begin to an overwhelming finale.
Relation to the music
Whereas the lower voice lives its own life in a slow, constant progression,
the upper voice reflects the musical events in the score. There are 11
themes in the piece; themes that can be ordered in 5 groups: 1) Prometheus
or the Creative Spirit, 2) human will, 3) reason or consciousness, 4) lust,
joy, ecstasy, and 5) fire, lightning and sparkles. The character of each
musical event has to be reflected in the character of the colour and not
in the colour itself; the latter being determined by the pitch noted in
the part. At some points in the annotated score, the dynamic indications
for the colour part (there are no dynamic markings in the original) conflict
with the dynamic of the music. This suggests a certain contrapuntal relationship
between upper voice and music.
In the design of the performance, one cannot ignore such indications.
However, being of a rather psychological character, they are impossible
to follow literally. Drawing inspiration from the spirit of the annotations
the colours should nevertheless give a visual counterpart to the music.
A mere rendering of the colours of the upper voice is not sufficient to
match the great variety of timbres and the sparkling, vibrating quality
in the music. This doesn't mean that the colour play follows the music
exactly; rather, it comments and reacts to the musical events.
The colour projections should be varied dynamically and spatially.
Staccato, portamento, crescendo/diminuendo, vibrato and tremulando
are musical terms that can be translated into the visual field. The colours
may be modulated in "pitch" (detuning within the colour circle), saturation
(varying the white component), and intensity. They may be provided with
hues of complementary colours in rainbow-like shapes. All these changes
may be made abruptly (staccato) or more or less smoothly (legato, portato);
in light technique terms, with cuts or cross-fades. They may apply to a
change of colour-note or occur within a single note.
Moreover, the colours should not constantly fill the whole visual area.
They should be alive; one colour may gradually overlap another in a certain
spatial gesture; it may grow or shrink within itself; it may vibrate, flicker
or shimmer. Here the colours may seem painted on the screens with large
gestures; there the screens may fill up with sparks and flames. All this
should reflect the extraordinary richness of the orchestral score.