The sensational work! It took 10 years for Okashiro to complete transcription and 4 years to complete recording & production.
Alexander Scriabin: Prometheus, The Poem of Fire Op.60
Piano Transcription for 7 pianos 49-Track Overdub
Transcribed by Chitose Okashiro
Solo Piano Works
2 Poems Op.63
2 Poems Op.69
Catalogue Number C20003
A Special Interview with Chitose Okashiro
「About the Concept of Prometheus」
7-Piano Transcription 49-Track Overdub Recording
An Interview with Chitose Okashiro
- about the concept of Prometheus -
About your piano transcription of Scriabin’s symphony, you already did an overdub recording of a transcription for 2 pianos of “Poem of Ecstasy” (as transcribed by Lev Conus, with Okashiro adding her own arrangement over it) before this “Prometheus”?
(Chitose Okashiro) -------Yes. I am very into Scriabin to begin with. I have already released 3 CDs of his music before this “Prometheus;” Sonata No. 5, Scriabin’s Complete Etudes and the “Poem of Ecstasy.” When I played back the piano transcription of “Poem of Ecstasy” for the first time, I was incredibly surprised and excited that the orchestra passage at the beginning of the piece sounded very pianistic. At the same time, I was very convinced that it makes sense that the “Poem of Ecstasy” sounds more fascinating when heard through the voice of the piano. I have had many experiences performing orchestral works on the piano apart from the “Poem of Ecstasy;” for example, Wagner’s transcendental piano transcriptions, Tchaikovsky’s “Pathėtique” symphony in a piano transcription, Mahler’s “Titan” in a piano version. However, playing Scriabin’s orchestral works in the medium of piano transcription has an utterly different meaning from other composers. The meaning of performing piano transcriptions of orchestral works generally relies on expressing -- not reproducing -- the musical content completed in an orchestral texture by the piano. In case of Scriabin, however, the meaning is quite contrary.
Scriabin himself was a fabulous pianist.
-------Indeed. All his works were made manifest at the piano as an instrument; therefore, conceptualization of his musical idea itself remains very pianistic. I think there are many types of composers; those who write in score from the start, and those that work out musical motives inspired by the resonating sound of a specific instrument. A composer who is apt to be a great pianist as well tends to find his way to pianistic passages and musical ideas, as if it came out of his hands during the playing of the piano, and Scriabin was certainly not an exception to this idea. What he wanted to achieve is based thoroughly upon pianistic elements, and we can observe the trajectory of his struggle with orchestration, which Scriabin wasn’t good at. When we experience his symphonies from No. 1 to No. 5 in sequence, you can follow his footsteps, and this clearly shows that his orchestration was not particularly good to begin with. Scriabin gradually found his way. and finally reached the level of the very massive orchestration in “Prometheus.” Therefore, performing Scriabin’s symphonies as piano transcriptions returns his expressions to their original, pianistic musical concepts, and that is the very opposite to performing piano transcriptions of typical symphonies. In this sense, my realization of “Prometheus” is the same kind of concept as that behind “Poem of Ecstasy.” I wanted to express his original musical ideas, in their purer form, after that massive orchestration is taken out of “Prometheus.”
Why did you choose “Prometheus?” Is there a particular concept behind it? Is there any specific point of difference with your treatment of “Poem of Ecstasy?”
-------There are explicitly different points between “Prometheus” and “Poem of Ecstasy;” mystic chords and “keyboards for light.” In this sense, Scriabin's public image is transformed by the notion that he was “nuts.” And some only recognize Scriabin from this side of his “strangeness;” that he was an “eccentric and weird person” find emphasis, and undue attention is focused on the keyboard for light or lighting, for Scriabin was a mystic and ardent admirer of theosophy. In my opinion, what Scriabin wanted to express most in this piece was the agony of Prometheus, his personally conflicted psychological processes that led to his rise to action. However, I have yet to encounter a performance of “Prometheus” that achieves a level of expression in that aspect. Scriabin sympathized with this agonized psychology of Prometheus; he also had a notion of the same feelings within himself which Prometheus had. This is the reason Scriabin composed “Prometheus” and it is vividly expressed in the music. That is the very reason why this is the piece which supported me during my hiatus, a difficult period of in my life when I concentrated on working as an arranger. Hence, if no one else would express “Prometheus” from this point of view, I think I’d would rather play it all by myself; not only the piano solo part but the whole piece including the orchestra. So, unlike the case of “Poem of Ecstasy,” it is not that I decided to play “Prometheus” because I wanted to play it in a piano transcription. I wanted to express the true spirit of “Prometheus,” and to depict it as I saw it, it was inevitable to play it on the piano.
Scriabin’s conceptualization of his musical idea is all based on the sound of the piano ...
-------Yes, because Scriabin’s conceptualization of his musical idea is rooted in sound of the piano as an instrument. I feel something is less than dignified about “Prometheus” once his orchestration was applied to it, though I recognize that he acquired those skills with his utmost efforts. How should I put it? “Prometheus” has massive sound of layers pursuant to the manner of applying orchestration at its thickest, an effect Scriabin discovered while he composed “Poem of Ecstasy.” To me, it seems like many things were lost during that process. I want to express the true “Prometheus” by playing it with a piano that represents Scriabin’s original musical idea.
There is a part of “keyboard of light” in “Prometheus?!”
* The part of this “keyboard of light” is notated in a single music staff of treble clef throughout the entire piece without pause at the top of the orchestral score. “Keyboard of light” is a “color organ” or Chromola, built by Alexander Mozer for Scriabin, and its function is to produce lighting of various colors by pressing a soundless keyboard.
-------Yes! About the part of “keyboard of light,” various research in this area has taken place since it is thought that this is the key to understanding “Prometheus.” However, from my point of view, I cannot help feeling that this part for “keyboard of light” is full of contradictions. To me, it seems there is no other way to consider that this part was added afterwards. I have serious doubt regarding the opinion that blindly follows the idea that this is the very essence of this piece. The essence of this piece depends on the music itself, not upon mysticism, nor theosophy. nor keyboard of light. We need to focus on the music itself, not the various extramusical connotations of “Prometheus.” Moreover, I think the music itself could be revealed more clearly when we strip out the orchestration. I think, that’s the very reason why Scriabin concentrated only on composing piano pieces after he finished “Prometheus,” and while he was dreaming of the completion of “Mysterium”.
About the piano transcription for 7 pianos; what’s the purpose of you transcribing it for 7 pianos, and not the simple 2 pianos? Is it that 7 pianos were necessary to play all the notes, as the “Prometheus” score contains so many?
-------As you pointed out, “Prometheus” has such a thick orchestration that there are many notes in the piece. However, it doesn’t make sense at all that the arrangement for 7 pianos would be done simply because so many notes needed to be played. There is no meaning in making that kind of arrangement, and it doesn’t make ensemble sense either. So, I didn’t do that, but what I did do is a totally different concept. At first, there is Piano I, which contains the original solo piano part and part of the orchestra which I transcribed in transcendental style. Musically, Piano I plays the main role, but as the piece progresses in a two piano texture, Piano II has a conversation with Piano I. Sometimes Piano I moves into a supporting role, and at points the overall texture becomes sometimes 3 to 5 pianos; at most it is 6 to 7 pianos. In other words, the principal purpose of overdubbing recording is to create timbre of tone, not to play a considerable quantity of notes physically divided to 7 pianos, which does not make sense musically.
How did you proceed in the studio when you were overdubbing parts? Did you record Piano I at first, overdub Piano II and then Piano III on the bed of Piano I and II?
-------Since Piano I is a queen, I undertook a plan to overdub all the piano parts using that track as the basis. I did not plan to record the tracks successively, such as Piano I followed by II, and then Piano III and so forth. Instead, I made a recording of all the piano parts centering around Piano I, so I started by overdubbing Piano I and II, then Piano I and III and then the other parts as needed.
Overlayered 7 pianos mean the texture is thicker than 2 pianos. If your purpose of 7 pianos was not because of the number of notes, then were you aiming for powerfulness or intensity?
-------It’s not that 7 pianos are always ringing, but mostly the transcription progresses as 2 pianos. Sometimes that becomes 3–5 pianos, and it reaches 6-7 pianos at most. That’s except in the final sections, which involve the chorus. Surprisingly, in one instance it is not the forte and fierce passage with many notes that require additional parts, but the slow and pianissimo section with a correspondingly thin layer of sound. The loud, strenuous sections progress with mostly 2 or 3 pianos. That connects directly with the aim in overdubbing; it is not the volume but the timbre of sound that determines the number of parts. For example, the color of the powerful fortissimo is determined by the elements of attack; in the same manner, it is also the vibrating sound of strings after the hammers has struck them that determines the color of the soft pianissimo sound, a sound the piano characteristically has. Therefore, I wanted to achieve a new tone color by overdubbing this vibrating string sound.
So, you overdubbed 7 pianos for the sake of timbre?
-------Yes, mainly to create the color of sound in the slow tempo sections. The reason why I wanted to overlay 7 pianos is, not for the purpose of playing all the notes in a score that is terribly busy with them, but because I wanted to create a new color of pianissimo sound. In fact, I layered the notes rather immoderately at first, however, I only completed the work through the direction of reducing the number of notes at last. When the instrumentation becomes more than 2 pianos, there is a tendency towards bringing physical strength to bring multiple notes into the forefront of the texture when the sound of becomes gradually layered. However, I definitely wanted to avoid that because there is a clear distinction between physical strength and musical intensity. Tempo in the slow sections were taken down to almost twice that of the orchestra version so as to focus on the vibrating sounds. Therefore, this version takes around 30 minutes to perform while the standard piano and orchestra version usually takes a bit more than 20 minutes.
So, it took 10 years to complete your transcription?
-------I revised again and again endlessly for 10 years, then I made alterations here and there even during the recording session. The reason why I recorded “Prometheus” is that I wanted to express my own “Prometheus” that I have in my mind rather than to record a transcription of the work as it appears.
You were active as an arranger at Boosey & Hawkes, working with many living American composers. Was your such experience helpful for overdubbed recording of Prometheus?
-------When John Adams was looking for a new arranger since he hadn’t met any good ones, the publisher Boosey & Hawkes introduced me to him. Since then, I have been engaged making many arrangements, working with Adams and many other living American composers. I learned tremendously from this experience, not only about the act of arrangement but also about the point of view through the lens of a composer on music. I saw before my own eyes the kind of procedure a composer takes to complete his own work, and through that process how a composer brings a musical work into life.
Without this experience, I don’t think I could have done an arrangement of “Prometheus.” That I learned from the standpoint of a composer how he puts his thoughts into a score was such a precious experience. This procedure is very much the opposite to the one as performer that I employ when I look at a score, that is, when a performer reads the intention of a composer from a page of music.
It seems like this CD contains rather very radical thoughts which says no to the already-existing value of thoughts about Scriabin. Are you worried how people with conservative ideas would receive this CD?
-------I suspect it wouldn’t be understood at all by conventional people who think “Scriabin should be like this” or “Chopin should be played like this” or even “music should be like that.” I wear it as a badge of honor that such people should not understand what I’m doing. If this CD were intended merely as a deliberate oddity, a “7-piano overdub recording,” on the contrary I believe it would be easier for the release to find acceptance since it’s not a terribly radical idea. But because I am creating and pioneering something new, a new sound, I am little apprehensive as to how it will be received. Nevertheless, I am proud that such a badge would be given to me as a maverick because this project is based on firm beliefs and carefully considered thoughts. When I play “Prometheus” looking at Scriabin’s score, I could feel how painfully Scriabin’s heart ached during its composition. I could feel it so painfully that his music made me cry many times while I was practicing. I could feel the “tears” he deeply put into “Prometheus.” Scriabin’s tears synchronized with the difficult time I was having at that time in my life. I created this CD out of my single-minded desire to deliver these “tears” to listeners. I would feel very honored and glad if I could convey the agony of “Prometheus,” Scriabin’s tears and my own thousands of emotions to the listeners. That is the only important issue to me, and nothing else matters at all.