Tolstoyan Aesthetics: "The Taming of the Muse": Tolstoj's Sometimes Antagonistic Attempts to Bend Music to His Will"

John Pendergast, Captain

In this discussion, we would like to explain motives for Tolstoj's frequently pejorative depiction of music as a device that communicates emotions that he considered unhealthy or immoral. The primary Tolstoyan objects for this discussion will be "The Kreutzer Sonata" and What is Art? In "Kreutzer", one often comes across passages in which a character, usually Pozdnyshev, expresses negative opinions about the destructive influence of music. Tolstoj expresses similar attitudes about music generally in his essays and memoirs, and particularly in What is Art?

The question of Tolstoj's aesthetics and his attitude towards music and musicians has been explored in considerable detail. Silbajoris has done a full treatment on Tolstoyan aesthetics, and writers like Baehr and Gibian have identified in the fictional works evidence of the ideas propounded by Tolstoj in What is Art? Tolstoj's relationship with musicians and their music has been explored by Garden in "Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy" and Rather in "Tolstoy and Wagner: The Shared Vision." Yet these writings have not looked particularly at musical images and descriptions in Tolstoj's works, nor have they attempted to explain why Tolstoj represents music as he does. Green, in "Art and the Kreutzer Sonata: a Tolstoyan Approach," takes considerable steps toward explaining possible motives for Tolstoj's musical antipathy, but does not integrate the ideas in What is Art?" into her discussion.

It seems possible that Tolstoj has the same ambivalent feelings towards music that Benson finds in Tolstoj's attitude towards women in her book Women in Tolstoy. Perhaps Tolstoj seeks to assign to music a particular role that it must play in order to be a positive element, that is, a protagonist rather than an antagonist. For example, in his story "Family Happiness" and even occasionally in What is Art? we can find Tolstoj using music as a harbinger of domestic contentment. Perhaps we can appreciate Tolstoj's sometimes harsh condemnation of music in the same light that Gibian in "Tolstoy and Shakespeare" appreciates Tolstoj's invective against the works of Shakespeare. The title of the proposed discussion comes into play here. In examining music in Tolstoj in this manner, we may see that Tolstoj did not hate music—even when he seems to be saying so—but wanted it to behave according to the aesthetic criteria he outlines in What is Art? In this way, like Shakespeare's Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew, the disparaging treatment by Tolstoj of headstrong, corrupting music is a charitable "taming" of the unwieldy muse.