The Fourth Sonata,
op. 30



In a light mist, transparent vapour
Lost afar and yet distinct
A star gleams softly

How beautiful! The bluish mystery
Of her glow
Beckons me, cradles me.

O bring me to thee, far distant star!
Bathe me in trembling rays
Sweet light!

 

In the last decade of his life, the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin became increasingly obsessed with planning his Mysterium, a massive ritualized performance that he hoped would transfigure reality. Scriabin’s sudden death in 1915 prevented him from completing more than libretto and 55 pages of sketch material. To Scriabin’s friends, however, it was clear that the project as he conceived it was impossible to complete. Scriabin envisioned thousands of celebrants enacting a ritual that would occur over seven days and nights in a specially designed temple located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. At a certain point, the vibrations thrown off by the performance would cause the temple to crumble, opening the ritual to the heavens. Scriabin hoped the participants themselves would ultimately be dematerialized, allowing them to achieve spiritual unity with divine cosmos.

In the Mysterium, Scriabin sought to revive the lost theurgic function of ancient mystery plays. Russian Mystic Symbolists had explored the possibility that a work of art could have a material effect upon reality, Theosophy had introduced him to the Vedic idea that the cosmos was permeated by a divine energy called Akâsa, a single vibration that possessed spiritual properties of breath, sound, light, and touch. In the Mysterium, Scriabin believed he could attain the Symbolist ideal by channeling Akâsa through the careful coordination of elements designed to stimulate multiple sensations. The work would combine a mythic symbolic text, rhythmicized speech and song, music based upon previously-unheard tonalities, colored lights and scents, ritual dancing and caresses, and the geometry of sacred architecture. The interaction of these elements would generate a vibration so powerful that it would trigger material disintegration, ecstatic universal death, and communal rebirth on a higher plane. By setting his Mysterium in India, he believed himself to be physically and metaphysically returning humanity to its spiritual origins.

Set at the Thikse Monastery in the centenary year of the composer’s death, Scriabin in the Himalayas combines music composed throughout Scriabin’s lifetime with vocalization, dance, and multimedia. The performances pay tribute to Scriabin’s idea of using multiple artforms to stimulate multiple senses for the purposes of spiritual uplift.

Anna Gawboy, May 2015

The

Mysterium