Light and Colour Concert in Germany

On May 21 2015 a well-attended concert was held in St. Catherine’s Hall of the Rostock Conservatory of Music and Theater in Rostock (Germany) under the motto of “light and colour in music”. In an introductory remark, Prof. Dr. Fedor Mitschke (Institute of Physics, Rostock University) explained the somewhat unconventional concept. Within the framework of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015) as declared by the United Nations, a series of events is organized by the Institute of Physics. In this context, the concert aimed at bringing to the audience’s attention the relation between music on one hand, and light and colour on the other; this was exemplified by the works of the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin.

In the first part, pianist Wolfgang Glemser and musicologist Prof. Dr. Hartmut Möller appeared together. Möller explained how Scriabin was moved by synesthetic relation between sound and colour to lay down plans for coloured stage lighting to be used in unison with his music. In one case, the symphonic work “Prométhée” for large orchestra, he spelled out these instructions right in the score as two “light voices” (“luce”). It is outright tragic that during his lifetime it was beyond technical capabilities to realize such an inspired concept in any adequate way. While the electric light bulb had been already invented, it had not nearly reached a degree of maturity that would have allowed an impressive display. Today’s stage technology involves LED lights and computerized control so that the desired colours can be produced to exacting specifications.

Möller and Glemser now had transferred Scriabin’s concept of coordination of sound and colours to his piano composition “Poême” op. 59.1, which was written just before “Prométhée” (op. 60). As Möller explained, Scriabin’s concept is rational and free of arbitrary show effects, and it is precise enough so that the colour accompaniment of the “Poême” followed with coherent logic. The result was demonstrated, and anyone in the audience could decide for themselves whether they could appreciate the inner logic of the associated colours as intended by the composer.

During the intermission the audience was invited to inspect poster boards on display in the foyer These posters will remain in place for several more weeks.

In the second part, two sonatas by Scriabin, plus pieces by Wagner and Debussy were performed. Here Glemser showcased the entire gamut of pianistic bravado and expressivity: from the tenderest of lyrical sound to the most thundering furioso. Such program is a challenge for any pianist: Glemser demonstrated his remarkable skills convincingly. With the exception of the Wagner piece (in a piano transcription by Liszt written 1868) all pieces were composed in the time frame between 1893 and 1914 so that they provided a comprehensive survey of the art of piano composition about one century ago. In an indirect way, this also commemorated Scriabin’s death exactly 100 years prior to this event.

After long applause, Glemser presented another gem as an encore: Scriabin had overdone practicing for his piano exam, and had suffered an injury of his right hand. This caused him a period of depression, but it also prompted him to compose pieces for the left hand alone. Here the audience was treated to Prelude op. 9.1. If one kept one’s eyes closed it was easy to imagine that the pianist actually worked the keys with both hands.

On this evening, the organic relation between music and colour as first introduced by Scriabin was transferred in a meticulous, and apparently historically accurate, way to another of his compositions, and the result was presented in a way like it has not been done before. The listener-spectators were inspired to their own contemplation, and to vivid discussions.

The organizers of the sequence of events throughout the year for Rostock University are Profs. Stefan Scheel and Fedor Mitschke, both with the Institute of Physics. For this particular event they teamed up with Profs. Hartmut Möller and Bernd Zack, both of the Conservatory, and Prof. Wolfgang Glemser, Cottbus, as the soloist.

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