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musicologist, musician, Russia
Some reflections on religion and art
A conversation between Andrej Lessovichenko and Jelena Faal, Russia,
translated by Jacqueline Smit, The Netherlands.
Lessovichenko is a professor at the Novosibirsk Glinka conservatory. His
main field of interest is the relationship between the artist's
consciousness and the artist's religious philosophical basis. In 1991, when
he became a Bahá´í, he gained new insights into the Christian tradition,
which led to his developing another perspective on the history of European
music. He talks about this with musicologist Jelena Faal.
JF: Andrej, your perspective on European music culture is based on the idea
that what is most important is the religious impulse. How does this relate
to the existing secular forms of art and to artists with an agnostic
AL: Certainly, there are phenomenon and creative figures who have no
connection to religion. You would hardly expect a conscious God-searching
moment in the works of Prokofjev or Shostakovitch, and maybe Gounod, Bizet
or Grieg. But one thing is sure: every great artist comes across existential
problems sooner or later, and starts thinking about the essence of being,
and it is at this point, whether the person likes it or not, that the artist
expresses opinions and world views that have been formed largely by the
culture s/he lives in. These positions, in their turn, have been influenced
by the spirit of religion, or more precisely, by the chain of religious
systems in which religions replace other religions, and each one leaves its
traces. If you look at it this way, you can interpret all artistic
expression as being the result of religious consciousness - although, one
must also take into account the individual artist´s contributions. For the
genuine artist, work is worship (a Bahá´í viewpoint), so even if the artist
is consciously irreligious (I wouldn't automatically exclude atheists),
during the creative process, s/he commits an act of worship. But this is
beyond my sphere of competence. I study the historical-cultural aspects of
AL: The Bahá´í writings have provided me with a lot of information, both as a
scientist and as a culturist... The
problem is that the Christian culture, whether you profess it or view it as
a rudimentary tradition, claims that its teachings are exclusive to the
Christian religion. This is why we see everything that takes place in the
Christian culture as being greater and more important than what happens in
other religious traditions. It is very hard to look at Christianity as part
of a series of other teachings, without privileging Christianity...
I can see that the closest
religion to the early Christian culture is the Bahá´í Community - not in
reality, but typologically. Now I can attempt to re-interpret the whole
course of European music culture. This is the reason for the title of the
study - ´Christian determinants of European music culture´.
JF: Does your personal religious experience surface here - I mean your
emotional experiences and not your rational activity?
AL: It's hard to separate them. Even with my scientific qualifications, I am
still a musician to a large extent. To me, emotions are as important as
reflections. The first drives the other along, and every step directed
towards the divine has two aspects - a rational aspect and a sensual.
JF: Could you tell me something about your own life?
AL: I was raised in a typical Soviet intellectual family, where religion was
viewed indifferently, but not negatively. From my youth onwards, I was
interested in religious teachings, but only in a scientific way, and later
even as an atheist. Working on a study on atheism forced me to immerse
myself in the problems of being, resulting in a slow drift towards religion.
This occurred in the second half of the eighties (during Perestroika, when
one could have contact with religious people, without putting one's job at
stake) in Ulan-Ude, the capital of the republic of Buriatia, not far from
Lake Baikal. This place was a unique point of intersection between the
Russian and Central-Asian cultures, and in this small city you could meet
representatives of various traditions. So I became acquainted with new
ceremonial Orthodox Christians, Lamaists, Adventists, Catholics,
Muslim-Sunnites and Baptists. The Orthodox believers made the strongest
impression on me...
Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, June 1997, pages 11 - 12
Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands