Beach, Amy (1867-1944). American pianist and composer.
It turns out that the 19th-century American classical composer Amy Beach had both perfect pitch and a set of colors for musical keys. Here are two quotes from biographies:
From Jeanell Wise Brown, Amy Beach and her chamber music: biography, documents, style (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994), p. 16:
"Other interesting stories about Amy's musical personality and her astounding abilities as a prodigy are recounted in almost all previous biographical writings. One such story is Amy's association of certain colors with certain keys. For instance, Amy might ask her mother to play the 'purple music' or the 'green music.' The most popular story, however, seems to be the one about Amy's going on a trip to California and notating on staff paper the exact pitches of bird calls she heard."
References are to letters in the Crawford Collection, Library of Congress.
From Walter S. Jenkins, The remarkable Mrs. Beach, American composer (Warren, Mich.: Harmonie Park Press, 1994), pp. 5-6:
"Amy's mother encouraged her to relate melodies to the colors blue, pink, or purple, but before long Amy had a wider range of colors, which she associated with certain major keys. Thus C was white, F-sharp black, E yellow, G red, A green, A-flat blue, D-flat violet or purple, and E-flat pink. Until the end of her life she associated these colors with those keys."
Reference is an interview of Beach by George Y. Loveridge in the Providence Journal, Dec. 4, 1937, p. 5.
"I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it's one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it's a different color. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures. If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin" (George 1981: 226).
"It was when I was eleven, and working on the F sharp major Prelude from the first book of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier - I perceived something that was very bright, between red and orange, very warm and vivid: an almost shapeless stain, rather like what you would see in the recording control-room if the image of sound were projected on a screen. But as numbers had always had colours for me - two was yellow, four was red, five was green - and as I have always found music evocative, I didn't regard this as unusual. It was more the idea of colour than colour itself. Certain pieces always project me into a particular colour-world. Sometimes it's a result of the tonality - C minor is black, and D minor, the key that has always been closest to me, being the most dramatic and poignant, is blue."
"I can see forms and shapes in my mind when I solo, just as a painter can see forms and shapes when he starts a painting," he told Whitney Balliett, the New Yorker writer. "And I can see different colors. My cymbals will be one color and my snare another color and my tom-toms each a different color. I mix these colors up, making constant movement.
"Drums suggest movement," he said, "a conscious, constant shifting of sounds and levels of sound. My drumming can shade from a whisper to a thunder. I'm not conscious of the length of my solos, which I've been told have run up to half an hour. When you develop a certain pattern, you stay with it until it's finished."
Hungarian composer. Ligeti is probably best known to the wider world for his early works, some of which were 'borrowed' by Stanley Kubrick for the soundtrack of "2001".
"I am inclined to synaesthetic perception. I associate sounds with colours and shapes. Like Rimbaud [sic; Rimbaud was not a true synesthete], I feel that all letters have a colour."
"Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown. I do not have perfect pitch, so when I say that C minor has a rusty red-brown colour and D minor is brown this does not come from the pitch but from the letters C and D. I think it must go back to my childhood. I find, for instance, that numbers also have colours; 1 is steely grey, 2 is orange, 5 is green. At some point these associations must have got fixed, perhaps I saw the green number 5 on a stamp or on a shop sign. But there must be some collective associations too. For most people the sound of a trumpet is probably yellow although I find it red because of its shrillness" (Ligeti 1978/1983: 58).
A strange twist: Ligeti studied and taught (1950 - 1956) at the Franz Liszt [another true synesthete -- see below] Academy in Budapest.
"When Liszt first began as Kapellmeister in Weimar (1842), it astonished the orchestra that he said: 'O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please! This key requires it!' Or: 'That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!' First the orchestra believed Liszt just joked; more later they got accustomed to the fact that the great musician seemed to see colors there, where there were only tones" (quoted from an anonymous article in the Neuen Berliner Musikzeitung (29 August, 1895); quoted in Mahling 1926: 230) (my translation).
Composer Olivier Messiaen, who flourished in the 1940's, was self-admittedly a synesthete, as is quite well detailed in his own writings and in interviews (see Samuel 1994 (1986)). Many of his compositions, such as Oiseaux Exotiques, L'ascension, and Couleurs de la cite celeste, are directly based upon his, in a sense, trying to "produce pictures" via sound, writing specific notes to produce specific color sequences and blends.
"For him there existed a strange, mysterious connection between sound and color, between the most secret perceptions of the eye and ear. Everything he saw produced a corresponding impression on his ear - every impression of sound was transferred and fixed as color on the retina of his eye and thence to his memory. And this he thought as natural, with as good reason as those who did not possess this faculty called him crazy or affectedly original.
"For this reason he only spoke of this in the strictest confidence and under a pledge of silence. 'For otherwise they will make fun of me!'" (Adolf Paul (1890), as quoted in Ekman 1938: 41-42).
“I definitely associate music with color. For example, my first record has a red cover but it is totally green and blue to me. So, it’s not very direct but I’ll think things like ‘that song’s orange’ or something like that. […] It’s the same for me with numbers. Like, four is just yellow to me and it would be weird to me if it were not. And songs are the same way. It’s never been something I need to think about.”
according to her statements in an interview for Paste.
“[Synesthesia] really does shape the type of music that I write. [...] Certain melodies, even if they are good, aren’t colorful to me and I only write in color, you know, so I definitely am writing a certain way because of my synesthesia.” (i-D 2018, 2:40–3:03)
“I'd always had a little bit of synaesthesia and would often see colors and textures and shapes in some part of my visual imagination when listening to music. So I was looking for a system that could communicate and share those sensations, using the exact same data to generate the sound and the visuals" (from "7 visionary Women Who Paved the Way for Electronic Music: Part 2", by Sarah Statham)
“Oh my God, it’s always been this way. But I thought all kids had mental, visual references for what they were hearing. [... Synesthesia is] my only reference for understanding. I don’t think I would have what some people would call talent and what I would call a gift. The ability to see and feel [this way] was a gift given to me that I did not have to have. And if it was taken from me suddenly I’m not sure that I could make music. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it. I wouldn’t have a measure to understand [it].” (Seaberg 2011, p. 187)
“Greene: Your’re seeing colors when you’re hearing sounds and hearing music?
Greene: I want to know how it helps your mind work in a way that we might sort of feel with the music that you create.
Williams: Well, it’s the only way that I can identify what something sounds like. You know, I know when something is in key, because it either matches the same color or it doesn’t. Or it feels different and it doesn’t feel right.” (Greene 2013)
“I start off by choosing four colors, so I associate C with yellow, associate F with pink, associate E with brown, associate A with red” (Hynes 2014, 1:34–1:51).
"So for the last ten years when writing music for people I tend to use the same chords over and over again, which a lot of people do call me out on. But the reason is pretty intentional, because they’re my favorite chords – my favorite color patterns. So I don’t really feel the need to change them.”
“I’ve been able to do that all my life. You see, nobody ever told me it was difficult to play in certain keys, like F sharp. Personally, I find C a hard key. It’s very sterile to me. Somehow all the keys seem to have colors and textures. I love B and E and A and F sharp. I actually associate them with colors, but Jim Hall, the guitarist, does too, so I don’t feel that ridiculous about it.” (Lyons 1983, p. 173)
“Every key has a different set of vibrations and I’ve always liked the sharp keys and more brilliant keys rather than F and C. They just seem more exciting to me, so maybe the colors go along with the feelings I get from playing them.” (Unterbrink 1983, p. 71)
Lyons, L. The great jazz pianists. New York: W. Morrow, 1983.
Unterbrink, M. Jazzwomen at the keyboard. Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland and Company, 1983.
“[Synesthesia] really helps me to know if a song kind of ties together and if every aspect of a song ties together, because if a certain drum sound sounds purple and the song feels purple than I know that they kind of match. It just really helps me figure out like the whole package of a song.”
Has graphemic and time-unit synesthesia, as well as synesthesia for musical notes most likely resulting from the connection with the letter (grapheme) names (Brayton 2012; https://watchmojo.com/video/id/11156).