In the movie Bill & Ted Face the Music, all of space and time is unraveling, but one song manages to correct the catastrophe and restore order. Alexander Scriabin was a composer who believed music has the power to alter the physical world. He spent the final years of his life writing a song to influence the entire world. Unlike Bill and Ted, however, Scriabin’s goal was to compose a song that would trigger the end of the world.
It’s a good thing he didn’t finish it.
Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) was a Russian composer, pianist, and mystic. Leo Tolstoy described Scriabin’s works as “a sincere expression of genius.” Many have suggested that Scriabin had synesthesia — the ability to perceive certain things such as numbers or musical notes visually as colors. Whether he was truly a synesthete is a matter of debate, but he unquestionably was influenced by the concept and wrote many of his later works to stimulate senses beyond merely the auditory.
He devoted the last dozen years of his life to writing Mysterium. This masterful work was to be unlike anything ever written, performed, or experienced in the history of mankind. The way Scriabin envisioned the performance of the finished work suggested the biggest multimedia performance of all time. The setting would be the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in India but all of humanity would end up taking part. It would be a grand, week-long spectacle. Scriabin wrote:
“There will not be a single spectator. All will be participants. The work requires special people, special artists, and a completely new culture. The cast of performers includes an orchestra, a large mixed choir, an instrument with visual effects, dancers, a procession, incense, and rhythmic textural articulation. The cathedral in which it will take place will not be of one single type of stone but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium. This will be done with the aid of mists and lights, which will modify the architectural contours.”
As Scriabin envisioned his magnum opus, it wouldn’t be just his song that would conclude with the performance. The climax of the song would be the concluding notes that would trigger the end of the world and replacement of mankind with “nobler beings.” At this point, things begin to get more than a little murky. In Scriabin’s defense, he died before finishing Mysterium, so he can’t be held entirely to blame for not fleshing out all of the details. We’re still not entirely clear as to whether existing humans were supposed to transform into the “nobler beings” or if they would be eradicated and replaced by extraterrestrials. In case it is the latter, it might have been a good idea to include a few details about any planned performances of Mysterium in the interstellar message designed to tell aliens all they need to know about us.
Scriabin died in 1915, leaving the world-ending Mysterium unfinished. He did, however, leave behind 72 pages of a prelude to Mysterium, entitled Prefatory Action. Russian composer and pianist Alexander Nemtin (1936-1999) spent 28 years trying to finish Scriabin’s world-ending composition. The result was a nearly three-hour work, which you can experience in the video at the end of this article.
Admittedly, we were more than a little disappointed that the first part of the song did not start like R.E.M.’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).
We confess that we did not listen to the entire piece, but we have it on fairly good authority that if you do, the world will not come to an end as you experience the final notes. Rest assured, however, that if we are wrong and the world does cease to exist as a result of listening to this video, we at Commonplace Fun Facts will offer you a sincere apology and a complimentary toaster oven as compensation for any inconvenience this may have caused you.