Prometheus: The Poem of Fire

Excerpt from Score of Prométhée - Le Poème du feu, opus 60 (1908-1910/1911) von Alexander Skrjabin, Edition Eulenburg EE 6705
© Ernst Eulenburg Ltd., London

Inspired by the idea of a synthesis of the collective arts and sensual impressions, Alexander Scriabin was the first in musical history who made the attempt to integrate colored light into a symphonic composition. He was convinced that the impact of music could be increased by simultaneous presentation of colors, and created his opus 60, Prométhée—Le Poème du feu (Prometheus—The Poem of Fire) during the years 1908 to 1910. He was also influenced by his philosophical and theosophical views of life which were impacted by Russian symbolism[1].

Scriabin named his work after the messenger of light, Prometheus, a mythological rebel who stole fire from the heavens and brought it to mankind. Fascinated by this figure and by everything associated with fire, he experimented with the use of light effects in his Poème by notating a part for luce, the light, at the top of his score, which was to be played on a color piano (tastiera per luce) in accordance with the music. For this, he followed mystical concepts to develop a system of corresponding colors and sounds which was based upon the cycle of fifths and the light spectrum. The luce voice consists of two parts, where the higher part clarifies the structural and harmonic course of the work, whereas the lower part conveys the mystical or esoteric meaning which Scriabin attributed to colors.[2]

However, the realization of the luce voice turned out to be difficult and technically problematic. Therefore, during Scriabin’s lifetime, only one single performance of Prométhée using colored light took place. This was on March 20, 1915 in New York and employed a light apparatus built by Preston S. Millar which, however, did not work convincingly. Since then, there have been different performance attempts which reflected the possibilities of lighting technology of the corresponding periods. However, whether spotlights and color filters, neon tubes or, just recently, sophisticated LED technology were used[3], an optimal transformation of Scriabin’s visions seems difficult to realize. Often, a realization which is true to the score is technically not feasible. Furthermore, there is the fundamental issue of how comprehensible Scriabin’s ideas can be, since they actually require a good knowledge of his system of analogies and their programmatic content. A loose interpretation might achieve a more intense art experience, but it does not really convey Scriabin’s visions.


  • original Title: Prométhée – Le Poème du feu
  • Date: 15.3.1911
  • Genre: Orchestral work

Op. 60

The world premiere of Prométhée took place on march 15th in Moscow without any light instrument and was cunducted by Sergei Kussewizkiy. The first performance which included a light instrument - Preston S. Millar’s “Chromola” - took place in Carnegie Hall, NYC in 1915. This Concert was concucted by Modest Altschuler.