Dramatic Vocalise Database

Aleksandr Skryabin (1872–1915)

Prométhée, Op. 60 (1908–10)

In the years between Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs and the composition and performance of Holst’s Sāvitri, several developments in England reinforced the use of dramatic vocalization. Originally planned for the morning of 4 October 1912 at the Triennial Festival at Birmingham under Henry Wood, the English premiere of Aleksandr Skryabin’s Prometheus, op. 60, written throughout the summer and winter of 1909, for orchestra, wordless chorus, and tastiera per luce (light organ), was “abandoned” due to lack of rehearsal time.1 The London premiere was given by the Queen’s Hall Orchestra on 1 February 1913, and played twice in order that it might be better understood.2 The work was again performed at Queen’s Hall on 14 March 1914, with Skryabin performing the piano part.3

Skryabin, like Holst, was interested in theosophy. During his trip to London in 1914 he met with prominent British theosophists at Cambridge, and even inquired into purchasing a plot of land in India. Herbert Antcliffe argues that the story of Prometheus attracted Skryabin due to its theosophical characteristics—the relationship between mankind and the Eternal.

In a program note the composer describes the episode with chorus as follows:

Hugh Macdonald gives an alternate interpretation of the meaning of the chorus:

According to the original instrumentation page, “Prometheus may be performed without color organ and without chorus.” 7

By 1919, British appreciation of Skryabin had waned considerably. According to a review by Alfred Kalisch of a 1920 performance:

However, the performance of a work as large and “mystical” as Prometheus, and the use of wordless chorus, paved the way for future English works such as Holst’s The Planets, and others by Vaughan Williams.

(Nauman 2009, 155–57)



Prometheus (complete)

Prometheus (ending with chorus)


1 Anonymous, “Occasional Notes,” Musical Times 53 (1912): 648.

2 Anonymous, “The Birmingham Festival,” Musical Times 53 (1912): 722.

3 G[eorge] H[oward] Clutsam, “The Harmonies of Scriabine [sic],” Musical Times 54 (1913): 157.

4 E[dward] A[lgernon] Baughan, “On the Modern Language of Music,” Musical Times 55 (1914): 231.

5 Kenneth Peacock, “Synesthetic Perception: Alexander Scriabin’s Color Hearing,” Music Perception 2 (1985): 494.

6 Herbert Antcliffe, “Prometheus in Music,” Musical Quarterly 12 (1926): 115.

7 Faubion Bowers, preface to Prometheus: Poem of Fire, by Alexander Scriabin (New York: Dover, 1995), 113.

8 Hugh Macdonald, Skryabin (London: Oxford University Press, 1978), 57–58.

9 Alexander Scriabin, Prometheus: Poem of Fire (New York: Dover, 1995), 117.

10 Alfred Kalisch, “London Concerts,” Musical Times 61 (1920): 248.