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Andrej Lessovichenko  

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 perspective?

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 music...

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