Piano solo
Duration: 5′
Gemini Publications
First performance 5 August 2007 | Helen Reid | Dartington Hall

Programme note:

Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings. Kandinsky

A commission focusing on synaesthesia, the crossing over of the senses, provided a fascinating opportunity to explore lines of parallel thinking between artist and composer; in this case the two contemporary Russian synaesthetes, Kandinsky and Scriabin. Kandinsky, an accomplished cellist, had strong associations with colour and sound, often using music as a structural model of reference, asserting that, for him, colour was an aural experience. Scriabin associated colour with all the keys, though some scepticism has been levelled at the essential nature of his synaesthesia, notably from Rachmaninov.

My starting point for Colour is the keyboard was Kandinsky’s magnificent canvas, Yellow-Red-Blue, in which he describes the ‘earthly’ yellow standing for firmness and the linear ‘heavenly blue’ floating gracefully. The red, with heavier, intuitive ideas, intercepts.

Three colours, three chords, taken from Scriabin’s key and colour scheme of yellow (D), red (C) and blue (Fsharp), structure the piece. The opening ‘hammer’ section, centred around D dances a toccata leading to a three chord falling motif, which pervades the piece. This is followed by a warmly, expressive passage revolving around C which in turn leads to the ‘cool romanticism’ of the F sharp section. With a return of the opening material the work climaxes on the three chords in the coda, all now clearly diatonic. The closing bars bring together a superimposition of all three chords melting into stillness.