Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata for violin and piano (dedicated to Rodolphe Kreutzer, a French violinist who never performed it) is the centrepiece of Tolstoy’s disturbing and controversial novella The Kreutzer Sonata. The novel in turn inspired the Czech composer Leoš Janáček, to write his eponymous, intense and feverish First String Quartet.

 

Tolstoy, deeply responsive to music, had a particular passion for folk music (the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet, based on a folk song Tolstoy had known since childhood, brought tears to the writer’s eyes). However, he was highly selective about the works of Western composers. While he admired Beethoven and was captivated by his music, he was also of the view that the composer had brought about the decline of musical art. In The Kreutzer Sonata, he expresses his complex and controversial views on marriage and sexuality, focusing on the conflict between the main character, Pozdnyshev, and his unnamed wife, who plays Beethoven’s sonata with a spirited violinist. While she becomes impassioned by the music, Pozdnyshev, believing himself deceived, is overcome by a jealous rage and murders his wife. The musical narrative of Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1, ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, seems to mirror the unfolding marital tragedy of Tolstoy’s novel, while the third movement is modelled on the second theme of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata.

 

Join us as we explore the unique connections between music and literature, and witness music become, in Tolstoy’s words, ‘a shorthand of feelings’.

 

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