Composers Datebook®

Colorful music by Scriabin and Torke

Composer's Datebook - Nov. 23, 2022


A question: do you see colors when you hear music? No, we’re not going psychedelic on you and absolutely no controlled substances are involved in preparing today’s edition of Composers Datebook.

It’s just that many composers do—see colors, that is.

The late Romantic Russian composer Alexander Scriabin would describe the key of F-sharp Major as very definitely being “bright blue.” His colleague Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov, however, thought F-sharp Major more a greyish-green hue. While many composers confess to seeing certain musical keys as certain colors, the fact is they don’t always agree on which color matches which key.

Which brings us to the American composer Michael Torke, who gave the title “Bright Blue Music” to an orchestral piece that premiered on today’s date at Carnegie Hall at a concert of the New York Youth Symphony.

In 1985, when this music premiered, Torke was just 24 years old, but had already been composing music for most of his young life. In addition to a string of other “colorful” scores, with titles like “The Yellow Pages” and “Ecstatic Orange,” Torke has also gone on to write a number of ballet scores and vocal works, including a TV opera and, in 1999, a big choral symphony for the Disney Corporation to celebrate the Millennium.

Music Played in Today's Program

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) Etude in F#, Op. 42, no. 4 Piers Lane, piano Hyperion 66607

Michael Torke (b. 1961) Bright Blue Music Baltimore Symphony; David Zinman, conductor.

On This Day


  • 1876 - Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, in Cádiz;

  • 1878 - French composer, conductor and arranger André Caplet, in Le Havre;

  • 1928 - American musical composer Jerry Bock, in New Haven, Conn.;

  • 1933 - Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, in Debica;


  • 1585 - English composer and organist Thomas Tallis, age c. 80, in Greenwich; This date is not certain (Nov. 20 is also cited as a possibility);


  • 1834 - Berlioz: "Harold in Italy," by the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, with Narcisse Girard conducting and Chrétien Urhan the soloist;

  • 1850 - George Loder: overture, "Marmion," composer conducting Philharmonic Society of New York;

  • 1867 - Brahms: Ballad No. 1 ("Edward"), from Op. 10, in Vienna;

  • 1890 - Dvorák: Piano Quartet No. 2 in Eb, Op., 87, in Prague;

  • 1899 - Dvorák: opera "The Devil and Kate," in Prague;

  • 1921 - Janácek: "Kátya Kabanová," in Brno at the National Theater;

  • 1928 - Daniel Gregory Mason: "Chanticleer (Festival Overture)", in Cincinnati;

  • 1931 - Bartók: ballet, "The Wooden Prince," in Budapest;

  • 1934 - Copland: "Short Symphony" in Mexico City, by the Orquestra Sinfonica de Mexico, with Carlos Chávez conducting; Subsequent scheduled performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony had to be cancelled, as the work was considered too difficult to prepare in the available time;

  • 1940 - Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in g, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet, with the composer at the piano;

  • 1963 - Daniel Pinkham: Symphony No. 2 in Lansing, Michigan;

  • 1985 - Michael Torke: “Bright Blue Music,” at Carnegie Hall in New York, by the New York City Youth Symphony, David Alan Miller conducting;


  • 1885 - Austro-Hungarian conductor Anton Siedl, a Wagner protégé, makes his American debut conducting "Lohengrin" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York;

  • 1903 - Italian tenor Enrico Caruso debuts at New York's Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's "Rigoletto"; He would sing a total of 607 performances with the Met, the last occurring on December 24, 1920 (an evening performance of Halevy's "La Juive");

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®