Cellist and composer Tatiana Anisimova answers philosopher Lydia Voronina's questions (translation by Julia LaVilla-Nossova)
Source: https://www.chayka.org/node/12286 Published on July 22, 2021.
Cellist and composer Tatiana Anisimova answers philosopher Lydia Voronina's questions
L: Tanya, what is music for you? This question is not trivial and not entirely silly when addressed to a professional musician with experience - a performer, a teacher, and a composer in one person. I'm sure you would have answered it differently at different periods of your life, and therefore at different stages of your relationship with music. I'm also sure that in their adulthood any creator ponders the nature and essence of their work in exactly the same way as a philosopher ponders the nature and essence of philosophy. Trying to answer it, the philosopher simultaneously clarifies for himself the historically possible types of philosophy and the meaning of his own philosophizing, while the artist – painter, musician, writer, or actor - becomes a philosopher and reflects on the most fundamental characteristics of artistic creativity - beauty and harmony and their liberating influence on the human psyche, on the forms in which beauty is realized in visual, verbal and sound images and his role in this rather mystical process.
T: Music for me is an alternative reality. I would say it's more real to me than the world that we see around us. It influences this world, and under its invisible but very tangible influence it changes. This feeling of music was born in me when I was fifteen years old... my mother died... I remember being alone in my apartment and not being able to cry, even though I felt very miserable, almost nauseous. I picked up my cello and started playing Bach's second suite. The feeling of nausea receded and was replaced by a strong emotional tension that seemed to burst in on me from the outside. The ability of music not only to express a particular emotional state, but to change it, is both a mystery and a main component of music. The mystery is in the very fact of music's existence. After all, it coexists in different forms at the same time: in silence, in sound, and in the perception of its sound. For example, Bach's Chaconne is simultaneously deployed in at least four hypostases: in the musical notation, in the performance, in the listener's perception, and in the memory of this perception/performance. And is it the same Chaconne or they are different? I can only ask such a question, but one cannot answer it unequivocally, one can only ponder the themes it touches upon.
L: What is the most important thing about music for you as a performer, teacher and composer? How much do you separate these areas and how much do you connect? Do they conflict with each other or, conversely, are they mutually enriched when each is engaged in its own specific tasks?
T: The main thing about music for me is its ability to penetrate deeply into the human psyche. I think of music as a kind of life-giving energy that cannot be embraced but can be partially grasped and infused. Composers are a kind of receivers who can pick up the vibrations of the infinite ocean of musical energy. They respond to the call of the frequency that corresponds to the frequency of their own psychic vibrations. And then a process begins that I don't think anyone can explain. In some incomprehensible way, composers put their inner states, triggered by musical energy, into a form accessible to the listener. If you are a performer, you have certain instructions for navigating the ocean of music; if you are a teacher, you become the embodiment of these instructions yourself, as well as the navigator. If you're a composer, however, you have nothing but your "inner ear," for no matter how much you study other composers' experiences of writing music, you end up being alone with yourself, listening to the music that sounds inside you, and trying to write it down.
L: Is there some broader context of your inner life-emotional, intellectual, or spiritual-in which music is just an element or aspect of it? Or do the horizons of music merge for you with cosmic horizons, similarly to the way it happens for a devout believer for whom everything real and meaningful exists only in God, and it makes no sense to separate these plans of being, otherwise all events lose their reality?
T: I look at this world through the lens of music. I know musicians who have worked hard in their musical fields and achieved great professional success, recognition, and a fairly high social standing. For them music was in a sense instrumental. I have a different relationship with music. Yes, music is my profession. But, in fact, it is secondary. First, music for me is a way to neutralize the world, to a certain extent to fence it off, to weaken its demands on me by observing it as if from the outside. At certain moments music was a way of escaping from this world... But not by turning away and running away from it, but by seeking to understand and accept it and myself in it. Sometimes I feel like I identify too deeply with music, but I can't change it.
L: And were there any non-composers and non-musicians-writers - poets, religious figures, scientists, film actors, travelers, painters - who influenced you as a musician? And in what ways are their influences different from those of composers, music teachers, or music performers?
T: The character in Tous Les Matins Du Monde (1991) the composer Monsignor Sainte-Colombe is not verbose. It's even said that he's like a fish. He has enormous difficulty in finding words to express his thoughts. But at the same time, he can summon his wife from the netherworld through his music. I always hear that music...
Another character, from the movie The Legend of 1900, is a unique self-taught pianist who was born on a ship that was cruising between America and Europe on New Year's Eve 1900 and was named the One Thousand and Nine Hundredth. This pianist grew up on the ship, never leaving its confines, and his world was limited to the ship and its passengers. Through piano improvisation, the Thousand-Ninetieth was able to create the most accurate musical portrait of any person or a vivid musical sketch of any event. His improvisations were often frighteningly precise. He intuitively penetrated the very essence of strangers. He created an alternate reality with his music.
I have always admired masters of their craft. And I was lucky, I often came across such people in my life. One such amazing master became my husband. This is the painter Alexander Anufriev, with whom I met 27 years ago. He had a strong influence on my inner life, and I learned a lot from him. He told me about the Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna. After reading Romain Rolland's book about him, I realized that I wanted to know more about this saint. I translated into Russian the book "Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna" which is in fact a diary of a disciple of Ramakrishna. In it the last period of life of the saint is described, his conversations with his disciples and pilgrims. It took me about a year to translate and helped me become more aware of the inextricable connection between my musical and spiritual life. I became more and more absorbed in the energetic image of Sri Ramakrishna. The realization that our body is not us, but only the instrument through which we realize our ideas, that there is nothing that stands in the way of our creative impulses and we can do anything if our heart is filled with love for what we are trying to express...
It was as if I had grown wings, I realized that nothing is impossible for the cello. I believe that I was able to transcribe and record Bach's Violin Sonatas in large part because of my spiritual communion with Sri Ramakrishna. The hardest passages come instantly to life if you stop being afraid of them and just admire their beauty.
L: You've read a lot of Buddhist texts, done transcendental meditation, and given meditative music concerts in various spiritual centers, churches and synagogues. What is the difference between the Western and Eastern, more specifically Indian, tradition of spiritual music? Is it the musical form or the spiritual practice that matters here? People in the West find it easier to find a kind of elevated state of mind by listening to chorales, prayers, and spiritual hymns than by the monotonous and monotonous repetition of mantras (chanting)... What do these sounds address in man? What are they meant to evoke? What does a state of bliss sound like? Is it possible to write the music of nirvana? After all, these ultimate experiences of consciousness have no definite characteristics, they are, in the ordinary sense of the word, devoid of content... And does emptiness sound, and if so, how? Does pure light sound, illuminating nothing and forming nothing? Can the presence of the self-conscious self in a state of perfect enlightenment be conveyed in sound?
T: The music of the West and the music of the East have a different relationship to time and space. Western music is linear. It moves from point A to point B, sounding over a certain time and filling a certain space. Eastern music, on the other hand, is instantaneous, at a point here and now. It does not move anywhere; it stays where it is needed, when it is needed. It manipulates time, pulling it into the moment, and it manipulates space, pulling its sound out of it, remaining itself as if it were hollow, which corresponds to the purification of consciousness and its concentration. This is difficult to explain. But it is this peculiarity of oriental music, for example, that in India evening music cannot be performed in the morning, and daytime music cannot be performed in the evening. And a concert can last five or six or seven hours, and the listeners don't get tired or bored. This music fulfills a reality that transcends time.
L: There's a lot about music that's incomprehensible.... What is it about the nature of music that puzzles you? Which is deeper catharsis - from listening to a piece of music, contemplating an icon, looking at a painting, reading a poem, watching a theatrical performance? Which gives greater release from pain or a more all-encompassing understanding of oneself - music or religion? Why do you think music is the last thing the brain of someone stricken with Alzheimer's loses? A musician can forget himself and his loved ones, he can forget what his name is, where he lives and where he comes from, what language he speaks and generally how to speak, how to eat with a spoon, how to dress... but remembers how to play Beethoven's most difficult sonatas.
T: Music as an alternative reality comes to the fore when the connection with the so-called real world is broken, which happens, for example, when people are affected by Alzheimer's disease. It is possible that after this life, the soul acquires a state similar to that of a person suffering from such a disease - the soul seems to forget itself. But it can only find its way to the light by following the sounds of divine music. Orpheus, as the embodiment of this very music, tries to free his wife Eurydice from the bonds of oblivion.
Where does music reside? After all, we cannot deny that it exists, even if it does not sound. Music is written in notes, and until it is played, we can't hear it... True, but there is music that is already playing, but which we nevertheless do not hear. Just as we do not hear the sound of the universe itself. Only a person who has reached a certain level of spiritual purification can hear the eternal primordial vibration of the universe, the so-called OM.
In my opinion, music is a symbol of paradise, a sounding nirvana. Bach did not allow evil in his music. But there were some who did. I can't listen to Schnitke's music.
We, Western composers, use the same twelve notes. It's a very limited set. It never ceases to amaze me how it was possible to create and continue to create so much music from those twelve notes.
Speaking of the music of the East, which is not a blob of energy vibrating in space like Western music, but instead draws its sound from it, it should be noted that Eastern music has a more complex system of harmonies and their offshoots than Western music. In the system of Indian classical music each sound corresponds to a certain point in the human body. This is why the process of comprehension of musical harmonies and creating music goes hand in hand with the process of spiritual practice. Eastern music has no musical notation. It has been passed down from teacher to student for thousands of years. In other words, Indian musicians were able to receive and transmit from generation to generation the life-giving energy of the music of the rishis, the ancient sages to whom the gods had revealed the hymns of the Vedas.
L: Iconographers, or creators of pictorial works saturated with spiritual content, are gifted with the talent of expressing visually what is not visible to our physical eyes, but what is revealed to our "third eye," that is, to the inner contemplation of entities or color harmonies - not images, but prototypes of things. In other words, they have the ability to transform the invisible into the visible. Can we say that spiritual music is when we "hear" in music sounds not heard in our everyday experience. Is it possible to hear the "music of the spheres" with our physical ear?
T: I think letting the music affect you in all its depth is the task of the listener. As I said, music is a sounding nirvana. The responsibility of the musician is enormous. It is desirable for the composer and performer of music to be in a spiritually purified, enlightened state. But the listener is no less responsible. Chewing gum and looking at jewelry on the next person is not conducive to an effective listening experience. I believe my strongest performances were at the Lotus Temple of All Religions, in the Appalachian Mountains, Virginia. I had fasted before the performance. I performed in front of monks and pilgrims who were observing a vow of silence. The atmosphere in the temple was electrifying. I began to play and... a sense of pristine silence overwhelmed me. As I came to grips with this energy, the sound of my cello became unusually deep, and the music began to sound in unison with me, with the listeners listening to my playing, with the endless silence to which the cello responded with me... In the music, everything was enveloped in a single energy flow of the presence of everything in everything.
Л: A question about the future of classical music. Do you consider Western classical music the highest achievement of musical form as such? What can be compared to it in terms of complexity, the richness of harmonies, the variety of performing interpretations in the world's musical culture that has opened to us and descended upon us over the last 40-50 years? Does contemporary classical music - both composers and performers - interact with other and foreign musical traditions - African or Brazilian rhythms, Indian musical harmonies, music written for ancient Chinese or Japanese instruments?
T: Music is undergoing a profound transformation these days. In my opinion, atonal classical music is a denial of human warmth and love, a loss of connection to roots. The academic system still produces and supports composers who write in an atonal style, but still music is returning to tonality. This is a time of transition. Much of what has been created now will fade into oblivion. Music is a language. The language of atonal music reminds me of conceptual scientific language. It is good for speculative statements: it can be extremely detailed and refined, but it is devoid of emotional and spiritual content. The music of the future will combine features of the music of many countries and cultures. Through the influence of jazz and folk music from various countries, the relationship to rhythm and to harmonic structure will change. One thing will remain the same - the emotional and spiritual impact. This will be present in music as long as it exists.
L: What is the ideal room for you, the ideal audience, the ideal student, the ideal residence for you as a performer and composer? With the new conditions of life and work that COVID dictated to us, what were the losses and the gains for you as a musician? Obviously, there are more losses, but were there still some unexpected positive features of the "remote" mode?
T: High-quality acoustics and the "prayerfulness" of the hall are necessary for a perfect performance. That is, the walls of such a hall would have to hear a lot of great musicians and sort of absorb the memory of their performances. The ideal audience is a prepared audience. Preferably, these people's ears would have listened to the cello more than once and at the same time be open to the new and unusual. Such an audience could successfully enter my alternative reality and be imbued with it. The ideal place of residence is a relative concept. In my life I have traveled and lived in many of the most beautiful and inspiring places in the world. However, I do not remember them with nostalgia. Now I live where fate has taken me. People sincerely love music and look forward to my concerts. What more could a musician wish for?
The ideal student is a talented student. I am not interested in obedient doers of my teacher's will. I believe in the mutual learning of teacher and student. Concrete accomplishments that result from operating in the remote mode are evident. My students, perhaps out of loneliness, turned to the cello as a magic wand, spent more time with it, and... won several competitions. And now they're interested because they love what they're doing. Better times are coming!
Lydia Voronina grew up in Moscow, graduated from Moscow State University in 1971, where she studied Husserl's phenomenology at the Faculty of Philosophy. Her teachers were Alexander Pyatigorsky and Merab Mamardashvili. After graduating from Moscow State University, she worked at INION. In 1977 she emigrated to America and continued her study of phenomenology at the Catholic University in Washington and Boston University. She defended her doctoral dissertation on the phenomenological theory of consciousness in 1984. For 25 years she worked at the US State Department in the field of public diplomacy, explaining American foreign policy, the foundations of the democratic organization of society and the structure of democratic political institutions to Russian-speaking audiences around the world. After retirement in 2008, she lives in Boston and continues to engage in phenomenological research in the framework of scientific seminars at Boston and Harvard Universities. Most of her articles on the problems of consciousness, forms of mental experience and the existential status of the self-aware self are published in the electronic journal Existenz.