The clavier à lumières (keyboard with lights), or tastiéra per luce, as it appears in the score, was a musical instrument invented by Alexander Scriabin for use in his work Prometheus: Poem of Fire. However, only one version of this instrument was constructed, for the performance of Prometheus: Poem of Fire in New York in 1915. The instrument was supposed to be a keyboard, with notes corresponding to colors as given by Scriabin’s synesthetic system, specified in the score, However, numerous synesthesia researchers have cast doubt on the claim that Scriabin was a synesthete.
Scriabin assigned the following colors to the following key areas:
|By chromatic scale|
|C♯||violet or purple|
|D♯||flesh (glint of steel)|
|E||sky blue (moonshine or frost)|
|F♯||bright blue or violet|
|G♯||violet or lilac|
|A♯||rose or steel|
|B||blue or pearly blue|
When the notes are ordered by the circle of fifths, the colours are in order of a spectrum, which leads numerous synesthesia researchers to argue that he did not experience the physiological condition of synesthesia. Additionally, it has been argued that Scriabin’s color associations were influenced by his theosophic readings and based on Sir Isaac Newton‘s Optics quoted by Louis Bertrand Castel:
|violet or purple||C♯|
Scriabin was a friend of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was also a synesthete. Scriabin’s assignments of colours to keys was not the same as Rimsky-Korsakov’s perceptions, which is not an indication that Scriabin was not a synesthete as all synesthetes perceive different associations. Scriabin was also heavily influenced by Theosophy, which had its own different system of associating colors and pitches (in essence going up the visible spectrum from C to B chromatically, rather than by fifths).
- Henry Chapin Plummer (April 1915). “Colour Music-A New Art Created With the Aid of Science: The Colour Organ Used in Scriabine’s Symphony Prometheus“. Scientific American. Plummer describes in detail the design and technology used to produce the instrument for the colour effect prescribed by Scriabin.
- Cummings, Robert. “Symphony No. 5 in F sharp major for piano, organ, chorus & orchestra (“Prometheus, Poem of Fire”), Op. 60″: “in the score he specifies that certain colors should flood the concert hall during performance”.
- Harrison, J. (2001). Synaesthesia: The Strangest Thing. ISBN 0-19-263245-0. “In fact, there is considerable doubt about the legitimacy of Scriabin’s claim, or rather the claims made on his behalf, as we shall discuss in Chapter 5.” (p.31-2)
- Galeyev, B.M. and Vanechkina, I.L. (2001). “Was Scriabin a Synesthete?”. Leonardo 34 (4): 357–362. doi:10.1162/00240940152549357. “The authors conclude that the nature of Scriabin’s ‘color-tonal’ analogies was associative, i.e. psychological; accordingly, the existing belief that Scriabin was a distinctive, unique ‘synesthete’ who really saw the sounds of music—that is, literally had an ability for ‘co-sensations’— is placed in doubt.”
- Cytowic, Richard E; Eagleman, David M (2009). Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia (with an afterword by Dmitri Nabokov). Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 309. ISBN 978-0-262-01279-9.
- Dann, Kevin T. (1998). Bright colors falsely seen: synaesthesia and the search for transcendental knowledge. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06619-8.
- Saglietti, B. (2012). “Dal Clavecin Oculaire di Louis Bertrand Castel al Clavier à Lumières di Alexandr Skrjabin”. Metamorfosi dei Lumi 6: 187–205. “In Europe Skriabin met the painter Jean Delville, who suggested him to study the writings of Castel.”