The next end of the world


Whoops, this is just a bad computer simulation. Well, at least we still have our jobs. Oh, wait...

OK, so the Rapture didn’t go down.  Again.  People have been saying that Jesus is going to come again since 20 years after he died the first time, and he still hasn’t shown up.  But the current band of disappointed Christians (and from the stories on NPR and the NY Times, shitty parents) need not think they’re any crazier than the rest.  From virgin births to Elephant-Gods with four arms to aliens placing hydrogen bombs at the base of volcanoes, every religion is rooted in something that requires at best a leap of faith and at worst a complete disregard for basic human reason.

Alexander Scriabin had a much better idea for the end of the world: I’ll transform humanity myself.  Beginning in 1903, Scriabin began sketching out plans for his magnum opus, Mysterium (also known as Preparation for the Final Mystery, which is one of the ten coolest names for a piece of music I can think of), a blend of music, dance, spiritual rite, drama, and probably peyote to last seven days and seven nights that was an effort to synthesize all of the arts.  Scriabin told his friends:

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.

Scriabin’s intention was to construct his own cathedral in the Himalayan Mountains as a space to perform the massive work, upon whose completion the human race would be replaced by “nobler beings” (which I’m sure wouldn’t be difficult to find).  In the last 10 years or so of his life, Scriabin became increasingly interested in Theosophist philosophy, which holds that all religions are attempts to help humankind achieve perfection and therefore all contain elements of truth; surely this philosophy played a key role in his conception of Mysterium.

At the time of his death, Scriabin had left somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-75 pages of sketches and about 1000 lines of text for Mysterium.  The Russian composer Alexander Nemtin patched up the holes in the sketches (mostly using some of Scriabin’s piano music) over the course of 28 years to produce a performable version of the work, which was premiered in Moscow under Kiril Kondrashin.  With so much material coalesced and re-purposed by Nemtin, it’s probably better to describe the music as Scriabin-ish as opposed to Scriabin, but frankly it doesn’t even matter what the music is (in point of fact, it’s pretty repetitive and not really indicative of Scriabin’s or presumably Nemtin’s abilities).  We should listen to this music for what it hoped to be and use our imaginations to create our own cathedral in the Himalayas, filled with performers, visual effects, and recreational drugs.  Here is a YouTube playlist with 5 videos containing about 40 minutes of the music from Mysterium, featuring a recording of the premiere performance under Kondrashin.

While Scriabin may have never realized his goal, the spirit behind his goal is thing to take away: the transformation of the human race shouldn’t require somebody from 2000 years ago to yank a bunch of people out of their clothes and into the clouds so He can torment the rest of us.  It shouldn’t require the resolution of a millenia-old conflict between two peoples being resolved such that one can try out the “third times the charm” approach on a temple.  It shouldn’t require the establishment of a theocracy across the majority of the known world.  Scriabin’s message is empowering: we can create our own transcendence.  We can, but we won’t, which is apparently why we’ll need to quit our jobs and ruin our children’s lives so someone or something else can.

See y’all next Rapture!


3 thoughts on “The next end of the world

  1. Perfectly apt post! I actually have the Scriabin/Nemtin LP. Got it for 50 cents at a yard sale. I’m assuming the former owners then went on to the Himalayas to begin mysterium-ing.

  2. I’d love to track down a copy of that. I have a performance broadcast they did in the Netherlands a couple years ago, and the Ashkenazy recording somewhere or other. I actually didn’t know Kondrashin premiered it until this morning, which is sad considering my adoration of Kondrashin.

  3. If you just want to hear the music maybe I can do a transfer at some point and put it on youtube or something like that. If you want the actual LP then you’ll have to wait till the next post-rapture looting :)

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