“Music reveals the inner essence,” wrote Vsevolod Meyerhold in one of his theoretical essays. “It spares us, comrades, from what? From the need for authentic emotions.” By making such a statement, the famous theatre director placed himself in a position of clear opposition to an even more famous director of the stage, his contemporary and former mentor Konstantin Stanislavsky. Hints of that classic animosity between teacher and student may to a certain extent explain Meyerhold’s rejection of the onstage expression of emotion. However, this protÚgÚ’s words raise a deeper question about his aesthetic philosophy as well: what expressive possibilities in music cannot (and should not) be expressed through the actors themselves?
The answer to this riddle seems to reside somewhere within Meyerhold’s understanding of the concept of “na´vety”. During a November 1936 repetition of his production of Boris Godunov, the director introduced a section of Prokofiev’s incidental music to his troupe. In a brief preparatory remark, he told them, “Today you will hear how Prokofiev achieved success with the ‘Battle’ scene. Why did he achieve success? Because he approached the development of this scene with Pushkinian na´vety.” In Meyerhold’s view, Pushkin was somehow able to achieve a state of creative na´vety in the writing of Boris Godunov – a quality that, in turn, contributed to the work’s greatness. In order to compose incidental music that would be suitable for the play, Prokofiev necessarily set out to make his own art na´ve as well. To have done otherwise would have been to compose something artful – and therefore to misunderstand the role that incidental music must play on the stage.
The artlessness characteristic of both Pushkin and Prokofiev seems to be linked to what Meyerhold saw as a certain pre-sophisticated, unedited quality inherent in their works. Continuing to discuss the music the composer had written for Pushkin’s battle scene, the director commented that “Prokofiev gives us music like cacophony. This success results from na´vety.” It would appear that this peculiarly Meyerholdian brand of artlessness has its base in the aesthetics of conflict and resolution. Following the rules of harmony, an artful composer introduces conflict into a score in order to create tension that will ultimately be resolved. Prokofiev’s score is na´ve in its unwillingness to obey (or even acknowledge) such rules. The conflict is allowed to remain unresolved and the result is cacophonic rather than harmonic. Pushkin’s play retains an artless feel as well, refusing to resolve its various ambiguities and offering no possibility (in the work itself) for lucid interpretation in the end. Such chaotic ambiguity appears to have pleased Meyerhold due to the unique possibilities it offered the theatre director and the actor. Provided that they pass the test of na´vety, both text and music offer the raw material, the “inner essence” of a theatrical work, making the task of the performer lighter. The actor is no longer required to express genuine emotion. He needs only cast a lucid interpretation on the cacophonic material already provided by the playwright and composer, fulfilling the complementary artful role.
The na´vety achieved by Pushkin and Prokofiev allowed the famous director and his troupe the possibility of honing in on what was specific to theatrical aesthetics, that being the translation of raw artistic material into the universal language of theatre. In Meyerhold’s view, or so it would seem from his various proclamations, it was only through this filtering of na´vety that the true artfulness of the theatre could emerge.!