5 Composers with Synesthesia

With Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy rounding off tonight’s Prom, we list four other composers who claimed to see music as colour…

5 Composers with Synesthesia


5 Composers with Synesthesia


Alexander Scriabin

The composer was very much influenced by his colour sense, going on to write Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, which featured the clavier à lumières (or luce), a keyboard ‘instrument’ which emitted light instead of sound.


Jean Sibelius

The Finnish composer was apparently very much a multi-synesthete, in that he claimed to also hear sounds in his mind when he saw colours, objects or via scents. Perhaps he truly heard the sound of silence…


Olivier Messiaen

A colourful composer in every sense, Messiaen once tried to describe his sensory skill, stating “I see colours when I hear sounds, but I don’t see colours with my eyes. I see colours intellectually, in my head.”


György Ligeti

The Hungarian composer was quite open about his synesthesia, stating “Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown.” He claimed to also have had the ability to see numbers as colours. 


Franz Liszt

It’s said the composer would speak to musicians in terms of the colours they needed to achieve in their performances, and is quoted as giving directions such as “A little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!”


What's on at the Proms tonight?



Prom 43: Tuesday 14 August 2018

Brahms Violin Concerto in D major

David Robert Coleman Looking for Palestine (London Premiere)

Scriabin The Poem of Ecstasy


Elsa Dreisig soprano
Lisa Batiashvili violin

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim 


The Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3



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