5 Composers with Synaesthesia

We list five composers who claimed to see music as colour

Scriabin
Published: August 14, 2018 at 3:00 am

1. Alexander Scriabin

Advertisement

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.

Prometheus: The Poem of Fire

2. Jean Sibelius

The Finnish composer was apparently very much a multi-synaesthete, 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…

3. 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.”

4. György Ligeti

The Hungarian composer was quite open about his synaesthesia, 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.

5. 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!”

Advertisement

Authors

Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.

Sponsored content