Roger Cichy, composer
Colours is an impressionistic work with each of the six movements
representing a particular color.
Composed in early 1997, Colours was commissioned by the Kansas State
University Bands and premiered on May 10, 1997 with the composer (Roger Cichy)
The music of each movement is not based on the outward appearance of its color,
but rather the pigments that are combined to produce the particular color.
Taken one step further, the color of each pigment is translated into its
symbolic meaning, which is then represented through the music (e.g., green:
warm, organic, middling qualities, immortality, neutrality).
The musical "pigments" are blended into the composition of each movement to
create the impression of the color.
The work represents the association of color symbolism as interpreted through
music as opposed to "orchestral colors," or timbres.
source: Published score
The following is some background information on the symbolism of the
various colors used in the piece Colours by Roger Cichy, in the hopes
that it will stir players’ imaginations and help them understand the
spirit of each movement a little better.
The creative process, as explained in the conductor’s score and by Mr.
Cichy to me, is incredibly multi-layered: basically, the colors of each
movement don’t refer to orchestral “timbres,” but refer to
the symbolic meanings of each of the colors (and each of the pigments that
make up each color) and how those meanings took musical hold in
Mr. Cichy’s mind.
I don’t have a clearcut answer for what Mr. Cichy was imagining when he
thought how to represent the symbolic meanings of the colors in music, since
there are so many different symbolic meanings for each color, depending on
various myths and legends, cultures, geographical locales, and eras of time.
However, he did tell me that one of his major reference works was The
Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, translated
by John Buchanan-Brown (there is a copy in the reference section of the Acton
(MA) Public Library and the book is also available for purchase via
Amazon.com, etc.); but there are many other books about symbols.
I spent about six hours in the Acton Library poring through the abovementioned
book, and looking at some other reference sources and came to the following
conclusion: there is so much and such varied material about the symbolism of
colors that one could write an entire doctoral thesis on the subject!
For the purposes of our playing Mr. Cichy’s piece, I’ll try and
summarize just a few of the symbolic meanings that seem to be associated with
each of the colors titled in each of the piece’s movements.
Again, I can’t speak for Mr. Cichy and how he specifically
“saw” the symbolism musically in his own mind, but to me the whole
creative process in general seems astonishing: philosophical, literary,
musical ... one layer on top of another.
As Mr. Cichy says in the conductor’s score:
The music of each movement is not based so much on the
outward appearance of its colors, but rather the pigments that are combined to
produce the particular color; and, taken one step further, the color of each
pigment is translated into its symbolic meaning, which is then represented
through the music.
The musical “pigments” are blended into the composition of each
movement to create the impression of the color.
Therefore, the work represents the association of color symbolism as
interpreted through music, as opposed to “orchestra colors” or
Obviously, the whole matter of color symbolism is highly subjective.
It should also be stated that color symbolism can differ among cultures as
The particular colors that each movement represent were chosen by the composer
because of their contrast to one another.
Mr. Cichy also chose to use the British spelling (“colours”) in
the piece’s title because that’s how it was written in most of the
research material he used.
In the forward to Udo Becker’s Dictionary of Symbols, the
Upon hearing, reading, or seeing the word “symbol,” one
inevitably forms a chain of associations whose links are certainly not rooted
in the realm of the commonplace; allegory, attribute, metaphor, image, emblem,
archetype, good luck charms, and signs—each individual idea can belong
to an elite multi-disciplinary area of research.
Perhaps this also explains many people’s attraction to and interest in
symbols, most of which are derived from antiquity: that one might reflect on
one’s roots, etc.
If one then pursues the stream of these traditions to their sources, it
becomes clearer with each step how manifold, entangled, contradictory and
often inextricable symbolic expressions can be ...
The word “symbol” is based on the Greek verb symballein,
which means “to toss or join together.”
At the same time, the verb was used to suggest a hiding or veiling: the sign,
having become a symbol, therefore encoded or camouflaged the apparent meaning
of an expression of that which was represented ...
Symbolum also referred to those articles of faith of a religious
community that were summarized in a few basic statements and always surrounded
by something mysterious ...
A selection is always a personal one, made consciously or unconsciously by the
editor or reader.
There neither can be nor will be absolute completeness, especially when one
considers a geographical and temporal factor that often exists amidst
centuries of change and extends over continents: the migration of symbols and
their meanings has become one of the most exciting areas of research within
modern interdisciplinary studies ...
In the Chevalier/Gheerbrant book, the editors say:
Symbols form an all-pervasive and potent part of our mental
and emotional universes.
This remarkable dictionary provides a rich inventory of symbols—of
myths, dreams, images, story archetypes, plants and animals, whether
religious, Freudian, artistic, or magical, from the ancient world (and all
geographic locales) ...
This book draws together folklore, literary and artistic sources, and focuses
on the symbolic dimension of every color, number, sound, gesture, expression
or character trait that has benefited from symbolic interpretation.
The diversity of approach is a reflection of the phenomenal range of possible
interpretations they offer.
I. Amber: can represent energy; solar, spiritual, and divine attraction.
The word “electricity” is derived from the Greek name for yellow
A frequent attribute of saints and heroes is a face the color of amber, the
symbol of heaven reflected in their persons and in their power of attraction.
Another Greek reference says that amber is an attribute of heavenly beings
because “as being partly like silver, partly like gold, it denotes the
incorruptible, as in gold, with unexpanded, undiminished, and spotless
brilliancy, and the brightness as in silver and a luminous and celestial
II. Jade: can represent vitality, cosmic energy; symbol of perfection and
of the unification of the five heavenly virtues; it can represent immortality,
In Central America, jade was a symbol of the soul, the mind, and the heart.
In Chinese tradition, jade is charged with “yang,” cosmic energy;
and symbolizes power, beauty, perfection, righteousness, regeneration, as well
as comfort and warmth.
In Greek mythology, jade (especially white jade) had powers of healing,
longevity, immortality, and rebirth.
III. Blue Sapphire: As the supremely celestial jewel, the sapphire
was often considered “the jewel of hope;” it carried the aura of
In Medieval times, “such varied powers were attributed to the sapphire
as to stave off poverty, protect against of the anger of others, against
treason and the miscarriage of justice, to increase valor, joy and vitality,
to drive away ill humour.”
“Blue Sapphire,” according to one reference, is derived from the
Sanskrit word meaning “beloved.”
Blue is the “deepest color; unimpeded, the gaze plumbs infinity, the
color forever escaping it.”
On the other hand, blue is the “most insubstantial of colors; it seldom
occurs in the natural world except as a translucency, that is to say, as an
accumulation of emptiness, the void of the heavens, of the depth of the sea;
emptiness is austere, pure and frosty.
Blue is the coldest of colors, and, in its absolute quality, the purest, apart
from the total void of white ...”
The Egyptians considered blue to be the color of truth.
In Jewish folklore, “Luz,” the home of the immortals, is also
called the “Blue City.”
Tibetan Buddhists believe blue is the color of transcendant wisdom and
IV. Mauve: Mauve is either a shade of purple or violet.
Purple was a symbol of power in many cultures; also of luxury and affluence.
Violet, standing between blue and red, is a symbol of meditation, of balance
between heaven and earth, mind and body, love and wisdom, of measure and
It is the color of temperance, clarity of mind, fidelity, balance between
sense and spirit, passion and reason, love and wisdom.
It is also the color of secrecy and of moderation.
V. Ivy: Ivy is often a symbol of immortality.
It stood for the eternal cycle of death and rebirth and the myth of the
It also symbolized desire.
In Etruscan art, it is often a symbol of procreation and sensuality and
It is also the symbol of friendship and fidelity—it was often presented
to a bride and groom at their wedding in ancient Greece.
VI. Burgundy Red: Red denotes heat, intensity, passion; it can
represent things dangerous or full of freedom.
Red is the color of fire and blood and regarded universally as the basic
symbol of the life principle, with its dazzling strength and power;
nevertheless, it possesses the same symbolic ambivalence of danger or beauty,
depending on whether the red is dark or bright.
Burgundy is a combination of red and purple.
The positive aspects include: life, love, warmth, passion, fertility; the
negative aspects include: war, destruction, fire, spilling of blood,
revolution, and evil.
In Medieval alchemy, red was often thought to be the color of the
Philosopher’s Stone, which was thought of as a stone that bore the sign
Red can represent a bold color promising new beginning, new life, and warmth;
it is also the color of wild explosiveness.
This just is the tip of the iceberg of the research into the psychology of
color symbolism, and I’ve listed just a few of the symbols that colors
have represented over time and in differing cultures.
I hope you enjoy this and that it enhances your imagination about the music as
you play Roger Cichy’s Colours.
Colours by Roger Cichy was commissioned by the Kansas State
University Bands, written in 1997, and premiered on May 10 of that year, with
the composer conducting at KSU.
Each of the six movements (Amber, Dark Jade, Blue Sapphire, Mauve, Dark Ivy,
and Burgundy Red) go beyond the color itself, deeply delving into the symbolic
meaning and “musical” pigment of each color.
Each movement creates an impression of the color itself.
Several movements employ jazz style, inflection, and harmony.
Roger Cichy was guest conductor and commissioned composer for the 50th
anniversary Concord Band celebration in 2009, conducting his outstanding
commission Flowing Pens from Concord.