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Magdalena Kozena: Love and Longing


I don’t usually use this space to make music recommendations, but this one is just so rapturous that I would gladly invent an Objectivist connection to it just to have the excuse of plugging it. It’s Magdalena Kozena singing songs of “Love and Longing” by Ravel, Dvorak, and Mahler (with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle conducting). Here’s a link to the CD via Deutsche Grammophone. kozena

There’s a video at the end of this post of Kozena performing and discussing the music itself. I usually find myself cringing at musicians’ or actors’ interpretations of the art they enact, if only because, in speaking about it, they so often seem to confirm Plato’s conceit to the effect that artists may have a knack for performance, but lack deep knowledge of the subject-matter that their art addresses. There’s sometimes some truth to Plato’s claim, but Kozena’s commentary expresses Ayn Rand’s (contrary) insight about the knowledge that the best artists have–whether they can articulate it or not–of the deep meaning of art. The passage is from “Art and Cognition” in The Romantic Manifesto (pp. 64-65):

Let us now turn to the performing arts….

In these arts, the medium employed is the person of the artist. His task is not to re-create reality, but to implement the re-creation made by one of the primary arts.

This does not mean that the performing arts are secondary in esthetic value or importance, but only that they are an extension of and dependent on the primary arts. Nor does it mean that performers are mere “interpreters”: on the higher levels of his art, a performer contributes a creative element which the primary work could not convey by itself; he becomes a partner, almost a co-creator–if and when he is guided by the principle that he is the means to the end set up by the work.

The basic principles which apply to all the other arts, apply to the performing artist as well, particularly stylization, i.e., selectivity: the choice and emphasis of essentials, the structuring of the progressive steps of a performance which lead to an ultimately meaningful sum. The performing artist’s own metaphysical value-judgments are called upon to create and apply the kind of technique his performance requires. For instance, an actor’s view of human grandeur or baseness or courage or timidity will determine how he projects these qualities on the stage. A work intended to be performed leaves a wide latitude of creative choice to the artist who will perform it. In an almost literal sense, he has to embody the soul created by the author of the work; a special kind of creativeness is required to bring that soul into full physical reality.

When the performance and the work (literary or musical) are perfectly integrated in meaning, style, and intention, the result is a magnificent esthetic achievement and an unforgettable experience for the audience.

That’s Rand at her best on art. If you want to see Rand’s claims vivified in an example, watch the video just below (8:21). The performance is interspersed with Kozena’s (brilliant) commentary, but what you see of the performance is enough to confirm Rand’s claims above, and what Kozena says in the commentary is enough to suggest that, in her own way, on her own terms, she understands and endorses Rand’s claims–an achievement underscored by the fact that she’s neither singing in nor speaking her native language. I’m also inclined to think that the performance and the commentary are jointly sufficient to induce any music lover to rush out and get hold of the album.




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