When Alexander Scriabin died on 27 April 1915, he left behind unfinished plans for his Mysterium, a vast multi-sensual experience that would be staged in the Himalayas. The work itself was never going to see the light of day, but this summer a group of musicians headed to the mountains to ensure that at least part of the Russian composer's vision would be realised. Pianist Coady Green reports…
Minutes after sunset on Summer Solstice, 21 June, we found ourselves bowing down to the imposing statue of Maitreya Buddha and slowly descending an outdoor staircase to a large, blue-lit courtyard, where monks had already taken positions, waiting silently as if in prayer.
The setting was magnificent – the top courtyard of the Thikse Monastery, Ladakh, Himalayas, some 3600 metres above sea level, surrounded by gargantuan, snow-topped mountains. With tenor Neil Latchman, we – myself and fellow pianists Christopher Wayne Smith and Matthew Bengtson) were about to perform one of the most unusual gigs we’d ever been asked to do: the duet arrangements of Scriabin’s First Symphony, Op. 26 and epic Third Symphony, Op. 43, The Divine Poem, with Latchman singing a set of Scriabin’s piano études arranged by Christopher Smith as vocalises in between.
Scriabin’s own plans in his lifetime had been fantastical: to stage a seven-day ritualised, multi-sensory spectacle with his own specially-written work Mysterium (sadly, never accomplished) being accompanied with dance, light, scent and colour. It was his genuine belief that it would change the human condition as we know it. Our concert itself was not meant to emulate Scriabin’s own vast designs. Rather, it was a symbolic homage to Scriabin’s artistic ideas, exploring the concept of synesthesia and the mystical undercurrents of his oeuvre.
The Third Symphony in particular was a fitting piece for these surroundings, and the piano duet arrangement, which was approved and sanctioned by Scriabin himself, works so successfully as a piece for piano four hands that, like the composer's eminent contemporaries Leonid Sabanayev and Leonid Pasternak, we consider it even better than an orchestral work, despite its megalomaniacal technical and physical challenges.
Lighting dramatically filled the courtyard and radiated from a Mandala-shape design around the grand piano, which with much difficulty had been transported all the way from Delhi, over 1,000km, and installed at the top of the monastery. The lighting shifted constantly, according to Scriabin’s own colour-tonal scheme, so every time we changed key, the lighting would move from blue through to red, orange, green. And as the monks performed the meditative, sacred, ritual Cham dance movements at various stages during the event, twelve original scent compositions, designed by renowned French perfumer Michel Roudnitska were pumped into the auditorium – waves of scent were picked up on the wind and carried throughout.
While this concert did not conclude with a cataclysmic shift for mankind which Scriabin was certain his music would cause, it was undoubtedly a most inspiring, breathtaking, and unique experience. Realising the composer’s greatest dream exactly 100 years after his passing, and having his music performed in such awe-inspiring surroundings – at the top of one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Himalayas – was in the end a hugely moving experience.
To see more about the Scriabin in the Himalayas concert, watch the video here: