Friday, 6 May 2016


Title Page, 1901: The Kreutzer Sonata, Leo Tolstoy
Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from the prolific Russian author Leo Tolstoy's 1889 novella The Kreutzer Sonata, a highly controversial (at the time of it's publication) philosophical ranting (of sorts) on man's intoxicated state of mind in matters of lust, desire, jealousy and rage (and the power of music) as depicted by the stories' most murderous main character Pozdnyshev, who offers to the reader a play-by-play analysis on the events leading up to the murder of his 'unfaithful' wife, who has fallen for a local violinist, Troukhatchevsky - and who spurns on her husband's murderous blind rage following a performance with Troukhatchevsky of Ludwig van Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata (no. IX in A major, for Piano and Violin, Op. 47).

The 'scorned' Pozdnyshev, finding himself suspect to experiencing the altered, "dangerous states" forced upon the listener by such music, watches in horror as his wife makes of him a cuckold (at least, in his mind) by taking to the piano - and her lover to the violin - and witnesses firsthand the power of Beethoven's Sonata, contrasting it's ethereally penetrative and soulfully invasive effects with that of the lust he senses courses through the veins of his wife and her inamorata. The spurned spouse's rage burns ever hotter as Pozdnyshev then prefaces both reader and the murder of his wife with a soliloquy on the transitory effects of music that drive him to "feel" another state of being "not of [his] own:"

"How can I put it? Music makes me forget myself, my true condition, it carries me off into another state of being, one that isn’t my own: under the influence of music I have the illusion of feeling things I don’t really feel, of understanding things I don’t understand, being able to do things I’m not able to do…

Music carries me instantly and directly into the state of consciousness that was experienced by the composer. My soul merges with his, and together with him I’m transported from one state of consciousness into another.”[1]

-Leo Tolstoy “The Kreutzer Sonata”

[1]Beethoven’s “state of mind” – in regards to the Kreutzer’s premiere, was most scorned, agitated, and betrayed, very much in vein with Pozdnyshev’s own whilst witnessing what he believes (at the juncture of the story offered by the quote above) to be the ultimate betrayal by his wife and Troukhatchevsky. Originally dedicated by the composer to the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower of Poland (which read “Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer [Bridgetower], gran pazzo e compositore mulattico” (Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, great fool mulatto composer), Beethoven would find himself much enraged by the actions of Bridgetower - who not only failed to rehearse for the part of violinist, the brash musician would make the mistake of besmirching the name of a woman in whom Beethoven found himself enamored.
Feeling grossly betrayed by his contemporary and friend, Beethoven scratched out the dedication to Bridgetower, replacing in his stead the name of a rival violinist.

The “mood” of both composer and composition can also be interpreted as reflective of Pozdnyshev’s own state of mind and the perceived state of mind of the late 19th century composer Beethoven: the work’s first movements, ranging from agitated and furious, to placid and meditative, gives way in the finale to revelatory exuberance – fitting almost perfectly in tandem with the range of mood experienced by Pozdnyshev as his introspective analysis of his wife’s alleged cuckoldry grows ever more sinister – and ultimately quite zestfully bizarre - following her slaying (after catching his spouse and
Troukhatchevsky in flagrante delicto): Tolstoy ends Kreutzer with it’s homicidal protagonist seeming to find a sense of both relief and macabre irony (Pozdnyshev famously considers – then quickly passes – on slaughtering the ‘lover’ Troukhatchevsky simply because he is wearing socks: a very minor triviality to mimic the novella’s theme of the fleeting states of man’s passions).

Listen below to the Sonata that inspired Tolstoy, performed by Pianist Yuja Wang and violinist Joshua Bell:

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