Hue to mode

Scriabin held that each mode corresponded to a particular shade of colour, and each modulation to a nuance of this shade. Changes from the major into the minor could therefore be underlined by strong contrasts, on a visual as well as a chromatic level. This was one of the most important aspects of Scriabin’s research into new areas of expression.

Frank Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, 1968, 157-8.

Colors have their minor and major qualities. Take, for instance, the relative minor of the scale of C, which would be A minor, or the violet-blue key. Violet-blue always gives me a sad impression similar to the music played in A minor. This will be observed in viewing distant billet-blue mountains at sunset or twilight. The melancholy effect is strongest when the dominant or subdominant color of the minor key is present, yellow and orange; on of which colors we commonly see at such times above the mountains.

Bishop Bainbridge, Souvenir of the color organ, 1893, 14.

Dr. D.S. Myers, a psychologist who talked with Scriabin, said, “Sriabin’s attention was first seriously drawn to his colored hearing owing to an experience at a concert in Paris, where sitting next to his fellow countryman and composer Rimsky-Korsakoff, he remarked that the piece to which they were listening (in D major) seemed to him yellow; whereupon his neighbor replied that to him, too, the color seemed golden. Scriabin has since compared with his compatriot and with other musicians the color effects of other keys, especially B, C major, and F-sharp major, and believes a general agreement to exist in this respect. He admits, however, that whereas to him the key of F-sharp major appears violet, to Rimsky-Korsakoff it appears green; but this derivation he attributed to an accidental association with the color of leaves and grass arising from the frequent use of this key for pastoral music. He allows that there is some disagreement as to the color effect of the key of G major. Nevertheless, as is so universally the case with the subjects of synesthesia, he believes that the particular colors which he obtains must be shared by all endowed with colored hearing.”

Tom Douglas Jones, The Art of Light & Color, 1972, 103.

Beethoven is said to have called B minor the black key. Schubert likened E minor “unto a maiden robed in white with a rose-red bow on her breast.” One Russion composer said, “Rimsky-Korsakoff and many of us in Russia have felt the connection between colors and sonorities. Surely for everybody sunlight is C major and cold colors are minors. And F-sharp is decidedly strawberry red!” Of his subtle compositions Debussy wrote: “I realized that music is very delicate, and it takes, therefore, the soul at its softest fluttering to catch these violet rays of emotion.”

Tom Douglas Jones, The Art of Light & Color, 1972, 103.