‘When an entrepreneur listens to classical music, this becomes a second theme for their business’. An interview with Mikhail Kazinik

unsplash.com/Oleg Kuzmin
unsplash.com/Oleg Kuzmin

How does music help you organise your thoughts and plan how your business functions? What classical compositions should we listen to before important meetings or negotiating key contracts? Do composers devise business projects? The art historian, musician, writer, poet, philosopher and director Mikhail Kazinik (@kazinik_michal) answered these questions and more in an interview with Kommersant UK.

Mikhail Kazinik

Music and mathematics are two sisters. Does a person who was musical in their childhood have a better chance of achieving success in business than their non-musical colleagues?

Our brains are divided into two hemispheres, one mathematical (so to speak), and the other emotional. When you listen to classical music, both these hemispheres must work, as the mathematical brain recognises the structures of the harmony, and the emotional brain responds to the feelings they create. A child who listens to music by composers such as Bach will be more successful in mathematics and literature. This is a result of the cognitive functions of the nervous system. If this child decides to open a business in the future, they won’t go about haphazardly, guided by emotions and undisciplined bursts of energy. They will build their company like a work of architecture.

When an entrepreneur listens to classical music, this becomes a second theme for their business. At first it might seem that it has no role, but music is so logical that it mysteriously suggests a whole range of possibilities, conclusions and workarounds to the brain. This happens intuitively. 

You have compared a business plan with a sonata form, noting that the second theme is dominant, and that business people who don’t grasp this won’t be successful. What does the second theme to a harmony bring to music and what does it mean in business?

I’ll give an example from my book ,The Secrets of Geniuses’. I was holding one of my business seminars during a major world crisis. The entrepreneurs gathered together and discussed the what was happening. They were insightful and perceptive, but they couldn’t find a way out of the situation. With the crisis in mind, I started to tell them about Beethoven, explaining that the worse his hearing became, the better he wrote music. It turns out that the great composer’s deafness was fortunate for us, the listeners. For a talented person, a crisis is a stimulus for colossal exertion of all their logical, emotional, intellectual and cognitive skills.

What is the relevance of the structure of sonata form to this? It consists of two opposing principles; the main and secondary themes. During development, tools and funding are procured to realise the project. This is business thought. In the recapitulation, they are united into a single tonality. 

Pushkin’s drama Mozart and Salieri, one of his Little Tragedies, is an example of sonata form which contains all the first parts of the symphonies, sonatas, trios, quartets and quintets. Famously, sonata form consists of three sections:  an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. In the exposition there are two main elements; the main and secondary themes. Pushkin’s main theme is Salieri, and his secondary theme is Mozart. Sometimes in sonata form there is an episode instead of a development. In this episode there is a blind violinist whose music becomes a cause of conflict. Through him, the contrast between the views of the two characters becomes clearer, as when the violinist plays, it makes Mozart rejoice while Salieri only becomes irritated. Why does Mozart rejoice? Because he sees that his music is alive in the lowly, blind musician. Authenticity is the main thing for Salieri, and it seems to him that the violinist’s playing is false. The recapitulation is the heroes’ return, when Salieri sprinkles poison in Mozart’s wineglass at the Golden Lion Inn.   

The aim of the project is not the main theme. It is its dominating idea. The project itself is executed via the interaction of the main and secondary themes. When we develop a business project without taking into account the secondary themes, it may fail, as no one is capable of keeping a panoramic picture of everything that is happening in their head.  The idea may be to make some money by selling something. And then it turns out that inflation is affecting prices, the customers are declining to purchase the product or a consignment of defective goods arrives…there is a huge variety of possible obstructing factors, and, despite all of these accompanying difficulties, you must compose an entire sonata form. A business project is an act of artistic thought for which you must consider all the possible options.   

What does the work of a conductor have to do with business? Surely a conductor must think about money last of all? 

That is an idealistic view which is far from reality, as musicians and composers always try to make money. I’ll give you an example. Johan Sebastian Bach believed in God and wrote all his music for him. But when he came to Köthen at the invitation of Prince Leopold, who was a Calvinist, so in essence an unbeliever, Bach forgot about liturgical music, masses and organ music. Leopold invited him as an instrumental musician. The Prince played and sang himself, and he asked the composer to accompany him and to write music for him and his friends. He saw Bach as a companion rather than a paid servant. Those were the best six years of the great maestro’s life, even though he didn’t write a single piece of organ music and hardly ever went to church.

Everything changed when Prince Leopold fell in love with and married a lady who could stand neither Bach, nor any music at all. The composer realised that there was nothing more for him to do in Köthen, so he left for Leipzig. Everything he needed for creativity was there; a richly decorated church, an organ and a choir. It was here that he composed more than two-hundred cantatas and such great works as  the St Matthew Passion and Mass in B minor. But there wasn’t enough money. Bach’s old friend Georg Philipp Telemann formed a secular ensemble of students in Leipzig. Then he left town, and Bach took over this experiment. He and the students began to give concerts at the Zimmermann’s coffee house. At that time coffee was considered a disreputable drink and Bach wrote his first operetta to popularise it; the bitingly witty Coffee Cantata which is simply the greatest advert of all time. He began to earn money from his concerts in the coffee house by playing the music he had previously written in Köthen .

 Ludwig van Beethoven earned himself fame and a large fortune when he composed Wellington's Victory, a symphony that was quite mediocre from an artistic perspective. For him it was a business project. From a poetic point of view, his most magnificent business project was the Moonlight Sonata, music which arrose as an alternative to suicide. The work was composed at the moment when the composer lost his greatest love; the countess Giulietta Guicciardi. The lady preferred another man to him, which pushed the composer to contemplate ending it all. And despite the fact that he went on to live a long life and wrote many other great works, the sonata remains popular today. Does this not demonstrate Beethoven’s head for business? On my YouTube-channel I tell many similar stories. 

What pieces of music can boost creativity and aid concentration? What music would you recommend listening to before an important interview or business negotiation?

First of all, I would recommend business people, those who are frightened of covid and anyone who wants to organise their thoughts to listen to the Twelve Grand Concertos of Arcangelo Corelli and also those of George Frideric Handel. I recommend listening to the symphonies of Joseph Haydn to create a feeling of total harmony. His music is constructed like a work of architecture. They are logical, and this logic helps people to talk. Besides that, music is rhetoric, and if you have music and rhetoric at your command then you think and speak differently. I’ll give you an example; during one of my conferences for business people, one of them said that he had written many letters to a German entrepreneur about a joint project, but had received no answer. I dictated the text of a new letter to him ; ‘Dear Herr X, if you still intend to do business with me, then I request you to schedule a date for my visit l which coincides with the performance of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ at the opera house’. And my goodness, he received an answer the next day! The German businessman realised that he wasn’t dealing with a typical Russian hustler. I’ve also had to take one of my compatriots to one side and explain to them about the great masonic opera. That was in the 1990s. At that time foreigners thought twice about going into business with Russians.
What to listen to before an important meeting or business negotiation? I would recommend people who feel unsure about themselves listen to the overture to Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. This music doesn’t miss a beat. Also the overture to Mozart’s opera the Magic Flute. If you are lacking energy, emotion or confidence in the success of your project, I would advise listening to the overtures to the opera the Marriage of Figaro, also by Mozart, or to Rossini’s Figaro’s Wedding. The link between great music and human thought and behaviour in the crucial moments before taking business decisions is very significant.

How do you relate to modern show business and its laws? (as Bogdan Titomir said, the main thing is that ‘the plebs lap it up’)

I have to admit that there is nothing I can do about the proportion of people who appreciate genuine art compared to those who prefer all kinds of poor imitations. Pop culture was always the culture of millions. High culture is the culture of a select few who have achieved success in thought, in science, in business, in music or in art, they are a mere handful. If you go to a museum you will see that people spend approximately 5-7 seconds on each masterpiece created by a genius. This means that much of the thought and subtext that the artists have put into their works remains undeciphered. The situation is similar with many other art forms.

The ‘plebs’ really do ‘lap it up’. A great number of ‘artists’ work day and night to push into their heads primitive three and a half cord refrains. This leads people to prefer songs that they have heard before, only slightly retweaked. For people with tastes like this, the subconsciously familiar is more appealing than novelty. They don’t realise that they’ve heard the tune before, and they’re paying again for the same old tricks.   

I like to say that we can divide the body at the navel into the upper and lower parts. The lower part has developed for millions of years, honed by evolution to take the best from the life experience of countless generations, meaning that the process of reproduction is now well perfected. The upper body, by contrast, is still in an embryonic stage of development as the brain is only at the start of its development. If the lower body overwhelms and overthrows the upper body, then culture and civilisation can be laid to rest.

If the ‘plebs’ come to the fore they may decide that it’s not worth spending money on artists, poets and musicians who write incomprehensible works. They may decide to get rid of them, and go to war on art. The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset has already written about this in his works The Revolt of the Masses and The Dehumanisation of Art. He foresaw that the mob, which hates everything beyond its comprehension, may threaten art with extinction. This is why he talked about clocks without mechanisms, fake ‘art’, which the people should like. There are many fakes like this now. Although they resemble art, they are not art.

About sponsorship; many successful business people seek to take people under their wings, they hunt for new talent. Where should they look for worthy protégés? 

It’s quite simple. You need a second in command with artistic inclinations, who will attend exams at conservatories, music and drama academies and offer help to the young students. That would be wonderful. 
Author Alena Ivanova

You might find this interesting