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The Leos and Ludwig Chain

Posted at 6:26 PM on January 26, 2009 by Fred Child (3 Comments)


In 1803, Beethoven started a chain that is still going today. Music inspiring literature inspiring music inspiring literature inspiring...

His A Major Sonata for Violin and Piano is commonly called "The Kreutzer Sonata," since it was dedicated to Rodolphe Kreutzer. (Kreutzer said "Beethoven has no knowledge of my instrument," and thought it was impossible on the fiddle, Kreutzer never played the piece that has his name...but that's another story.


In 1890, Leo Tolstoy wrote a novella called "The Kreutzer Sonata." In Tolstoy's story, a fellow named Pozdnyshev tells about how he killed his wife. She played piano, and she had begun to work with a violinist...with a MALE violinist. They played Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata at a dinner party. Pozdnyshev saw that they shared some depth of feeling while playing the Beethoven. He leaves town on business, but comes home early, and finds them together. He kills his wife with a dagger.
His violence is inspired, in part, by the unbridled passion in the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata. The narrator asks:

"How can that first presto be played in a drawing-room among ladies in low-necked dresses? To hear that played, to clap a little, and then to eat ices and talk of the latest scandal? Such things should only be played on certain important significant occasions, and then only when certain actions answering to such music are wanted."


Czech composer Leos Janacek read Tolstoy's novella, and was inspired to write first a piano trio (now lost), and then his String Quartet No. 1. The quartet has the subtitle "after Tolstoy's 'Kreutzer Sonata'."

Janacek's quartet is not a moment-by-moment retelling of Tolstoy's tale, but it sets the mood: dark and brooding, sinister, forboding. In places loving and tender, elsewhere quite violent.

Janacek wrote his quartet in 1923.

Thumbnail image for MargrietdeMoor1.gif

And in 2005, ANOTHER author wrote a story, this time inspired by this Janacek quartet. Margriet de Moor wrote a novel ALSO called "The Kreutzer Sonata." About a torrid affair between a musicologist and a young violinist in a string quartet that's been practicing Janacek's Quartet.

So...a 2005 novel inspired by a 1923 quartet inspired by an 1890 novella inspired by the 1803 Beethoven. No word on any composers working on music inspired by Margriet de Moor's novel. Yet.

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Comments ( 3 )

How about this:

Wagner's Ring Cycle -->

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings -->

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings -->

Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Symphony (with nods to Wagner)

Posted by Alex Coppock | January 27, 2009 10:33 AM

Many of Shakespeare's plays contain songs and music (Shakespeare may or may not have been writing some of the lyrics, but some lyrics were definitely taken from popular folk tunes). Some scholars even speculate that people in early modern England went to plays to hear the music (and see the dances--also featured in these plays), and that the early modern audience's interest in the plot or story itself was secondary. The secular play for public theater was still a very new thing/concept in England, and Shakespeare was incorporating other art forms (like music and song) into his own dramatic inventions for the stage (to tremendous and successful effect). The music (and lyrics) in his plays often seem closely related to the meaning of the story itself (as in Ophelia's song in Hamlet or Feste's song in 2.3 of Twelfth Night or Desdemona's song in Act 5 of Othello), and the plays themselves (a combination of text, music, song) have gone on to inspire many, many musical interpretations (not to mention film interpretations as well!). Fred and other readers of this blog--I'm sure you know many more of these musical responses to Shakespeare than I do. The most obvious example for me is Verdi--who was tremendously influenced by Shakespeare and set Othello, Macbeth, and Falstaff to music. So, here, we have a case, then, of a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century play (with music and dance embedded into its very structure) then inspiring a nineteenth-century opera--itself a kind of very specialized play set to music. In this example, it's almost as if the chain between text and music (and then further music and text) is a mobius strip--a circuit endlessly sort of folding back in on itself as reader/listener moves between text-music-text-music and so on.

Posted by Catherine | January 28, 2009 12:45 AM

I love this kind of story, with a string or story linking composers and other artists through the centuries/decades. My favorites are composers as teachers in a line to modern composers/musicians. Thank you!

Posted by Linda C. | January 29, 2009 9:35 AM

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