Scriabin pianist microwaved his parents

Scriabin pianist microwaved his parents


norman lebrecht

March 23, 2015

(Not for the squeamish.)

A Hong Kong musician, Henry Chau Hoi-leung, killed, chopped, salted and microwaved his mother and father, all the while listening repeatedly for 30 days to Alexander Scriabin’s peculiar, phone-ring piano suite, Vers la Flamme.

Chau, 31, was handed a life sentence. The judge said: ‘You fail in everything but the piano.’


Let’s not blame Scriabin, right?




  • Paul barker says:

    Vers LA Flamme is not a suite but a solo of about eight minutes, a favourite of Horovitz, amongst other. The idea that a musical work can in any way drive a person to extreme behaviour, however sensationalist, is rather silly.

  • Harold Lewis says:

    Norman, can you please explain why you call Vers la flamme a ‘peculiar, phone-ring piano suite’?

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Surely among the stranger headlines in even this bizarre century?

  • Derek Castle says:

    Well, there is a certain persistent bell-like figure at the end. Agree, though – it is not a suite!

  • Ray says:

    He is not a professional pianist. Nor is he a musician. He just knows how to play the piano. That’s it.

  • Karen says:

    Norman, I checked all the news reports from Hong Kong and China. There was no reference to this monster being a ‘professional pianist’.
    According to local news reports, he did not appear to have had any kind of work – he had been angry at his mother for telling him to get a job and angry that he was cut off from the money his parents were sending him. I found a reference to him being angry at his mother for having forced him to study the piano but there were no other details provided ; another report stated that he failed to complete his studies in Australia but there was no mention of what the program of study was. The ONLY reference to music was the claim that the murderer had LISTENED to Vers la Flamme before committing the horrendous crimes.
    Are you sure he was a ‘professional pianist’ ? He is a psychopath and a monster, and apparently admired Hitler. I’d hate to think such a monster could be a “Scriabin pianist”.

  • John Borstlap says:

    But it has to be admitted that this piece has peculiarly morbid, perhaps ‘insane’ qualities… Scriabine himself didn’t have them all in a row either, as we know. There is something mentally sick in this piece, as in most of his later music. The harmonies never find a solution, like someone locked-up in an obsession and cannot get out. The 6th sonata has the same morbid qualities. With a bit of imagination, one can hear some sort of inhuman, glowing abyss opening-up.

  • Evan Knudsen says:


  • quasifaust says:

    Well if listening to Wagner makes one want to invade Poland I suppose it follows that listening to Scriabin makes one want to microwave family members…

  • Peter Donohoe says:

    I want to know what make of microwave he had to take that load – even across thirty days it is difficult to imagine, unless he had small parents. I have myself recently studied Vers la Flamme, so I am going to put the microwave on Ebay for safety.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    From the news report:
    “He also told a psychiatrist that he listened to Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s piano piece ‘Vers la flamme’ continually for 30 days before he killed his parents and it enhanced the images of flames in his mind that he believed would signal the impending end of the world.”
    That was what Scriabin had in mind when he composed the piece: the destruction of the world through a gradual heating up of the world. Not such a crazy thought, as we know now…

  • El Grillo says:

    I still don’t think there’s any correlation.

    With this kind of logic, music is a sort of black magic which would manifest, of all things, the return of Lord Voldemoort or something, and not even J. K. Rowling put that in the gruesome means to resurrect the arch fiend.

    Music really is something else. And. I really don’t think that – no matter how many times he listened to Scriabin’s piece – it would have by itself murdered his parents. So, he would have done better to keep listening to it, and discover it doesn’t, that’s the nature of music, and that’s how it nurtures emotions. And that’s what emotions are.

    One could argue that, especially in these times, there’s music that with it’s volume and aggressive rhythm is meant to murder someone, and if played enough might accomplish that through a nervous breakdown. One might also debate whether that’s music, or not.

    “Music” or rather volume has been used for torture, but Scriabin, isn’t on the list, that I know of.