Piano Colour-Music by Messiaen & Scriabin


Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) belong not only to the most important composers for the piano and to the most influential on the music of the 20th century. They are also known for their ability to see colours while hearing music (a rare condition called ‘synaesthesia’) and for their artistic attempts to merge music with colours.
However, until now Messiaen’s and Scriabin’s synaesthetic concepts in their piano compositions have not gained much attention. In addition to the lack of satisfying and feasible technical implementations in the past century, their colour-music ideas further were often regarded as something exceptional, as an idiosyncrasy of somewhat eccentric personalities. This is surprising, given that both composers regarded the additional dimension of colour as essential for their work – Messiaen even reported to compose sounds according to ‘their colours’…



While some orchestral works by Messiaen and Scriabin are occasionally performed with light installation, there were only a few similar projects which involved piano compositions. I aspire to shed light on this music and to introduce Messiaen’s and Scriabin’s piano works and synaesthetic concepts to the concert audience. Currently I am working on a piano recital format with their compositions accompanied by digital dynamic visualisations, projected on the screen behind the pianist. These visualisations are based on my musicological research and created strictly according to composers’ descriptions.
Just in the spirit of the two composers, this artistically unique concert format is aimed at experiencing piano music in a more intense aesthetic way while involving both senses hearing and seeing. 

In addition to my artistic and pedagogical activities, I am researching the phenomenon of synaesthesia and 'colour' in classical music of the 20th century (especially in the compositions of Alexander Scriabin and Olivier Messiaen) within my doctoral programme at the University of St Andrews, UK. The main focus of my work is the relation between overtone-based harmony and tonality, cross-modal linkage, and perception of consonance and harmony.

Zusätzlich zu meiner künstlerischen und pädagogischen Tätigkeit forsche ich über das Phänomen der Synästhesie und "Farbigkeit" in der klassischen Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts (insbesondere in den Kompositionen von Alexander Skrjabin und Olivier Messiaen) im Rahmen meines Doktoratsprogramms an der University of St Andrews, Großbritannien. Der Schwerpunkt meiner Arbeit liegt in der Beziehung zwischen Oberton-basierter Harmonik, sinnesübergreifender Verknüpfung und Konsonanz- bzw. Harmoniewahrnehmung.

* Picture above: one of Olivier Messiaen's colour-chords - the accord du total chromatique in the second transposition with the following colour description by the composer:

Wide deep gentian blue tablecloth, surrounded by a circle with abrupt change of violet, red and orange. The supplementary notes add a brilliant yellow circle above the first.

Messiaen, Olivier (2002): Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d'ornithologie. 7 volumes. Paris: Leduc (7)


* Bild oben: einer von Olivier Messiaens Farbakkorden - hier der accord du total chromatique in der zweiten Transposition mit folgender Farbenbezeichnung des Komponisten:

Breite, tief enzianblaue Fläche, umgeben von einem Kreis mit abruptem Wechsel von violett, rot und orange - die vier zusätzlichen Töne fügen einen weiteren glänzend-gelben Kreis über dem ersten hinzu.

Messiaen, Olivier (2002): Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d'ornithologie. 7 Bände. Paris: Leduc (7)