Musical Metapoesis and Metaphysics in War and Peace

Gina Kovarsky, Virginia Commonwealth University

This presentation examines musical performance in War and Peace as a metaphor for the art of living within the flux of time while attuning oneself to what remains untouched by flux. As represented by Tolstoj, music paradoxically opens up two paths—the performer and audience enter flux while at the same time uncovering stability within it. Like the novel as a whole, the passages depicting musical performance create a dialogue between these two modes of experiencing life in time. This dialogue becomes implicated in the larger tension Tolstoj establishes between a vision of human experience as confined and limited in material terms, and as reflective of an essence that is “eternal, free, independent of this life” (IV.1.16).

Like dancers, singers, and musicians who use their bodies and instruments inside the present tense to incarnate ideas or feelings, Tolstoj’s characters must grapple with and somehow transfigure corporeality and temporality, overcoming the limits on knowledge and understanding that ensue from those fundamental constraints. Like the gypsy Steška in “ Two Hussars,” who “lived with her whole being entirely in the song she was singing” (PSS 3: 166), musical beings in War and Peace do not reflect upon their performances, but seem to inhabit the dance and music undivided from themselves and fully present in the moment. On the other hand, as when Nataša and the other Rostov children discuss eternity to the strains of Dimmler’s harp (II.4.10), Tolstoj hints at a link between music and the advent of philosophic distance from the here-and-now. In the latter case, the music helps to usher in the intuition of an unchanging reality. These two perspectives on musical experience correspond to coexisting “solutions” Tolstoj represents in this novel to the problem of duality. By means of analogies to the musical arts, he depicts a path of ecstasy and a path of philosophic intuition, then unites these paths for the reader through the metaphor of Petja’s concert.

This paper will describe the process by means of which he invites the reader into an analysis of aesthetic experience. It will also discuss the motif of the music of the spheres as a structural principle in War and Peace.