Skryabin and the Prometheus Idea


Hesiod, the father of Greek didactic poetry, had not lost his reputation in the 18th century either. One of the reasons for this is that he put the ornaments he added to the oral tradition into writing and wrote a few large chapters about Prometheus. The Birth of the Gods (Theogonia), which he wrote in the 8th century, is the first work written about the Titan Prometheus, who stole the fire of the Gods.

Mankind's friend, Prometheus, was cunning. He did not rebel against the Gods like the other Titans, but remained neutral and gained the sympathy of Zeus. Zeus took him among the immortals on Olympus. Yet he harbored a grudge against Zeus and his friends. He created the first man from clay, which he kneaded with his own tears. Then, pitying his helplessness, he stole a spark from Hephaestus' hearth and gave it to people. This gift brought him torment, and Prometheus was chained on the eagle mountain by Zeus. He was punished by an eagle that came every night by beating his liver alive. Heracles rescued him from this mountain. Because of this theft, Zeus gave humanity evil and suffering; He hid the fire, but Prometheus, the honored son of Iapetos, stole it from Zeus. Overflowing with hatred, Zeus created Pandora, the first virgin, and when he sent her to humanity, he gave her a box filled with evil and suffering. Fire constituted a very important resource for the mechanical arts, science, language, imagination, and even consciousness itself.

Prometheus provided our salvation by revealing the "knowledge" that was hidden from us. With Hercules (Heracles) rescuing him, Prometheus found the eagle that ate his liver every day, and took his revenge by eating the liver of the eagle that Zeus had commissioned to punish Prometheus. Zeus later forgave Prometheus and took him back among the immortals. He also confirmed his statement, "Ignorance is a blessing", which they experienced in their adventure of revealing knowledge.

It should not be overlooked that the story of Prometheus is also covered in Plato's “Protogoras”, Eshilos's “Prometheus on Chain” and Shelley's “Prometheus Unbound”, and that the story remains alive for generations. Prometheus was associated with knowledge, hidden knowledge in history and took its place in the works produced by the arts. Pandora, on the other hand, symbolized a "beautiful evil", especially in classical painting.

He was born at Christmas time in 1872. He has been on the path of musicianship since he was very young, and one of the biggest reasons for this is his mother, Lyubov Petrovna Skryabina, who was one of the best concert pianists of her time, even mentioned positively by Rubenstein and Tchaikovsky. His father, Alexander Nikolayevich Skryabin, was a diplomat and did not contribute much to Skryabin's upbringing, as he was often abroad. She was raised by her aunt and grandmother, Skryabin, who lost her mother at an early age, and adopted a feminine personality. He was educated at the Skryabin Moscow Conservatory, and the composers who influenced his compositions the most during this period were Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. The part that influenced Liszt the most was his mindset on his compositions. From this influence, the work named “Poeme Satanique and Black Mass (op.68)” was born. At the same time, the musical understanding of the Russian Fives also influenced Skryabin.

Especially in his last periods, the composer created a style that is completely his own, impossible to imitate, and this style based on dissonant harmony formed his true composer identity. In particular, the sensory disorder called “Sineesthesia” is an important factor in his career. Synesthesia is a word of Greek origin meaning "unified sense". In synesthetic people, stimulation of any sense automatically triggers another sense perception. Scriabin also showed himself as the relationship between this color and notes, and even created a piano system in which he combined colors with notes. He used this colorful piano in his work called Prometheus: The Poetry of Fire, which is the subject of this article, and he planned a light show with colors and even recorded it. He also states that he created this light show to support harmony.

Colorful piano created by Skryabin.

This situation of Skryabin, who was, so to speak, "excluded" because of his work, has been clearly expressed throughout history. The most striking of these statements came from Shostakovich, the pupil of the USSR. He described Skryabin in 1931 with the phrase "our most unpleasant musical enemy".

Analyzes of Skryabin in the music world are usually made to underline his saturated, dominant harmonic dissonance. However comprehensive these analyzes are, they have not been successful in fully reflecting the sophisticated and rich beauty of the music world Skryabin created. One of the biggest reasons for this is the fact that "The important thing is only music, not mysticism" stated by some of the major music theorists. Academicians and researchers who analyze music
It is worth noting that Skryabin may not have the equipment to fully understand his understanding of mystical music. While I think it is absolutely wrong to examine Skryabin's music without the origin of the philosophical/mystical understandings that he believes in and that he often imposes on his music, I believe that this "special sense" study should be applied to each of the composers. In order to understand artists with occultist beliefs, especially Skryabin, a philosophical infrastructure should be created, and their works should be listened to with awareness of these understandings.

In the history, analyzes made with a mystical understanding, surrendering to Skryabin's complex language of harmony, were generally seen wrong by the academic music community, and even the analyzes made by musician-philosophers such as Theodore Adorno and Jean-Jacques Nattiez were met with cynicism. Although it is not expected for every commentator to fully grasp Skryabin's philosophy, it is best to examine Skryabin's music in the light of the discourses of masters such as Adorno and Nattiez.

If we talk about the concepts that influenced Skryabin's music, one of them is “Intonatsiia”, one of the Russian music theories. Intonatsiia is basically based on the understanding of “transmitting thoughts better with the possibility of recording an emotional intonation”. Musicologist Borislav Yavorsky stated that this theory is one of the foundations of 20th century music understanding. E.g; We can use intonatsiia to bring together two different understandings such as music and speech. This type of concept provides the composer with the power to relate music to the "real world" in a much more meaningful way, helping us to examine the musical expression in an aesthetic context. In particular, the dynamic tension between two notes or the attraction between two notes nourishes intonatsiia. Borislav Yavorsky calls this "Sensory Attraction".

For Skryabin, intonatsiia was a musical theory that needed deep study. He referred to this theory as the "continuous expansion of musical parameters". The Skryabinci phenomenon is an 'enigma', an international archetype and an existential study of culture. Skryabin is a composer who keeps the thought that "an idea becomes important when music is tied to a certain plan in the wide world where broad perspectives lie". This understanding helped him to explain his Promethean ideology in his music. Scriabin plays the god in his own world, expressing himself as a translator of sacred knowledge and beliefs.

The system of thought that Skryabin adopted from philosophers such as Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, especially in his late periods, led him to see music and thought as two concepts that could never be separated from each other. The idea of ​​"Extase", which occasionally overlaps with the idea of ​​Prometheus after 1909, is the exact equivalent of Skyrabin's thought system. He was particularly influenced by Nietzsche's interpretation of Prometheus. This interpretation is based on both the play of Aeschylus and the concepts of “genius and creativity” developed by Goethe during the times of Tempest and Enthusiasm. In Greek mythology, after Prometheus is sentenced and pardoned, he is elevated to a creative artist, a divine power. In Nietzsche's comments, he mostly focuses on the primitive man's understanding of the value attached to fire. Another thought system that combined with Skryabin's thoughts was Theosophy under the leadership of Helena Blavatski. The thoughts explained by Helena Blavatski in her book “Essays of Theosophy” embrace fire, flame, energy, war and life.

The work, which was staged for the first time in 1911 under the direction of Sergei Koussevitsky, uses a large orchestra, choir, piano and “Tastiera Per Luce”, that is, an illuminated organ. Many passages were inspired by Debussy, and concepts such as will and reason formed the main lines of the piece. The piece, which was performed in Moscow, New York and London, created great enthusiasm and even a woman died due to a heart attack at the New York concert. It is debatable whether we can associate the cause of this heart attack with the work.

This work has been a very important turning point in the history of music with both its mentality and new inventions. The concept of Synesthesia, which we mentioned before, came to life in this work. Synesthesia has also manifested itself in Baudelaire's Sonnet "References" and Rimbaud's "Vowel" sonnet. Psychologist Jules Millet was the first to call this condition Synesthesia. Theosophist Helena Blavatski, on the other hand, explained the relationship between colors and tones with a painting. In 1912, Kandinsky described Scriabin as a pioneer in this field. He also explained Scriabin's color scale in this magazine.

Another turning point related to the piece was the "Prometheus Chord", a synthetic/mystical chord created by Scriabin. Although this chord takes its name from the related work, it was used for the first time by its creator in this work. The chord is derived from the scale of “do-re-mi-fa sharp-lasi flat”, and the Prometheus Chord is obtained in the form of “do-fa sharp-b-flat-mi-la-re”.

Prometheus Sequence.

In terms of the formation of the Prometheus chord, it has caused many discussions in history. Some musicologists have described this chord as a natural chord as a result of vibrations in nature, while others have described it as a synthetic chord derived from existing romantic/classical music. In Sabaneyev's defense in the journal Mavi Atlı, the intervals and vibration of this chord form an upper pitch, and this overtone corresponds to a number. The different forms of this chord are simple in Skryabin's Op.37/2 Measure 6 and 4 sonata; Poeme states that he appeared in le Extase, Prometheus, 5th Sonata and Op.73/1 in their advanced formats.

The biggest reason behind this defense is that Skryabin really cares about natural vibrations. The composer especially valued the human voice and the violin, and believed that the music of the future would have an expression based on "Ultrachromatic" vocal ranges. As the pioneer of these beliefs, we see that the predictions for the future have come true.

A Table of Chromatic Sequences.

In order to better understand Skryabin's synthetic Prometheus chord, it would be best to use composers who have used such chords. One of the best examples of this is Chopin, who was also a composer whom Skryabin idolized. Chopin often preferred to use the sixth over the fifth in dominant seventh chords, and today it is called the "Chopin Sixth". For example; In the 15th piece of his Op.4 Preludes, he used the dominant chord "mi-sol sharp-si", which is the dominant chord of the A major scale, as "mi-sol sharp-do sharp-" in the piece. Although Chopin did this in many of his pieces, he only saw this alteration suitable for dominant chords. The possibility that Skyrabin derived the Prometheus chord from Chopin then becomes convincing. Only Chopin did this for dominant chords, while Skryabin used his own chord for degrees that fulfill other functions along with the dominants.

The "Tone Centers" targeted by Skryabin with the Prometheus chord is a very important point, especially in the late periods of the composer. These timbre centers are also seen as the precursors of Schönberg's 12-tone system. Chords and scales in the works are connected to the timbre centers in their small or fully reflected form.

Later, Skryabin derived new modes based on the Prometheus chord, and used the 8-9 voice modes he produced in his music. These modes consist of: When the Prometheus chord consisting of 6 voices, “do-fa sharp-si flat-mi-la-re” is arranged horizontally, an incomplete 6-voice scale emerges. Adding another quartet “left” to the chord creates a 7-voice scale “do-re-mi-fa sharp-sol-la-b-flat” and this is the scale designed by Skryabin. The Russian music theorist Javorski called the modes created in this way "Chain Scales". These scales, in which minor triads are linked by chromatic semitones, were also mentioned by Oliver Messiaen as the basis of his own music. Even the most accurate information on this subject is reinforced by the analysis of timbre centers on the works of Skryabin.

Parallel to the thought of "Extase" (Ecstasy), the thought of Prometheus also includes concepts such as "flight" and "ascension". The opposite of these two ideas is “introversion”. The element of introversion is handled in Op.74/2, and the triton's static motion and inner distress are given in the bass part. Skryabin on the vocalization of this piece: “It should be played for millions of years, first colored as if painting a painting, and then all colors should be erased.” form a sentence. This passive thought is equivalent to the theme of death for Skryabin.

Skryabin characterizes this passive theme as “languido” and adds qualities such as eroticism, compassion and longing to this theme. We can observe this best in the “Sonata of the White Rite” (7.)

There are many elements that fall under the Prometheus idea. Skryabin especially added these elements to his late music; Mysterious invocations (eg: op.19/2 in the early period, op.62/2 in the latter period) riddles and feelings of alienation (eg: Enigma and Etrangete) war, anger, turmoil (op. 74/5). The most significant work related to Prometheus is, of course, the 5th Symphony, which is the main subject of this article, as the "Poem of Fire".


Skryabin's works; Modest Altschuler, Leopold Stokowki, Pierre Boulez, Yevgeny Mnavinsky, Yevgeny Svetlanov; From the modern period; He has been mentioned with conductors such as Valery Gergiev, Vasily Petrenko and Kirill Petrenko. I suggest you listen to Yevgeny Svetlanov's recording with the USSR orchestra.


The Alexander Scriabin Companion; Lincoln Ballard, Matthew Bengston, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
Wide Breaths in Music; Leyla Pamir
Scriabin And The Possible (Article (MTO)); Anna M. Gawboy, Justin Townsend
Forbidden Knowledge From Prometheus To Pornography; Roger Shattuck
The Oxford Companion Of Music (Ninth Edition)


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