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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Poet of Fire: Aleksandr Skriabin’s Synaesthetic Symphony “Prometheus” and the Russian Symbolist Poetics of Light


This paper discusses the synaesthetically informed metaphors of light, fire, and the Sun in Russian Symbolism and shows their scientific, technological, and cultural resonance in the novel experience of electric light in Russia. The essay studies the harmonic synaesthetics of Aleksandr Skriabin’s symphony “Prometheus, A Poem of Fire”—which also includes an enigmatic musically notated part for an electric organ of lights, along with Symbolist texts concerning light and electricity and the synaesthetic poetry of fire by Skriabin’s close associate Konstantin Bal’mont. The article investigates how Skriabin’s Mystic sonorities and his language of colored lights square with the peculiar Symbolist engagement with scientific notions of electricity and light at the Russian fin de siècle. Thus, it demonstrates the Russian Symbolists’ fascination not only with aesthetic synthesis and mystic transfiguration, but also with the sciences and technology: both with divine light and with electric light.

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