Ragnar Kjartansson: An die Musik

Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson talks to John-Paul Pryor about creating emotive walls of sound, the nature of beauty and why great art can save us from thoughts of suicide

The acclaimed Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson is staging a performance all this week in a one-off preview of Zurich’s newly renovated Migros Museum, which has been situated in the former beer brewery Löwenbräukunst-Arieal for the past sixteen years. While much of Art Basel this coming week will be focused on the ever-more prevalent argument of art as financial asset management, Kjartasson’s wonderful multi-hour performance of Franz Schubert’s “An die Musik” in the as yet unfinished space  – it officially opens its doors on August 31 – will be reminding visitors to the preview that great art is about the moment, the sublime and the soul, rather than its monetary value.

“An die Musik” is a poem set to music by Schubert’s friend the poet Franz von Schober and it celebrates art as a refuge form the stresses and strains of everyday life, and perhaps also as a refuge from the banal and mundane “greyness” of existence.In this performance, the voices of various Icelandic opera singers – and Kjartansson – fill the void of echoing empty white-walled galleries with unsynchronised multiple renditions of the song, resulting in a disorientating Stockhausen-esque aural experience.

With the ensemble singing for four hours-plus at every preview it’s an ambitious undertaking, and the perfect accompaniment to Zurich’s concurrent Art And The City programme, which witnesses the work of over forty artists, including Paul McCarthy, Martin Creed and Richard Tuttle, placed all over the capital in public spaces. In this exclusive film of the performance Kjartansson talks to Port’s editor at large John-Paul Pryor about creating emotive walls of sound, the nature of beauty and why great art can save us from thoughts of suicide.

An die Musik:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb’ entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt!Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

Oh lovely Art, in how many grey hours,
When life’s fierce orbit ensnared me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Carried me away into a better world!
How often has a sigh escaping from your harp,
A sweet, sacred chord of yours
Opened up for me the heaven of better times,
Oh lovely Art, for that I thank you!

Directed and Produced  Craig Thomas 
and John-Paul Pryor

Ragnar Kjartanssonn’s An Die Musik runs until June 17. His solo show opens August 31. For more information visit
Art And The City runs until June 29. For more information visit