Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, turns on a man whose
damaged attitude to love leads him to suspect his wife is having an
affair with a violinist, with whom she is playing Beethoven’s intensely
dramatic, and intensely demanding, sonata of the same name. It dives
deeply into the idea of a woman “tormented and run down” for her
desires. Unsurprising, given Tolstoy was an advocate for less passion
and more reason in relationships.
In contrast to this, Janáček’s String Quartet No.1, after Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata,
is driven by bursts of emotion and strong passions, and resonates with
understanding, rather than condemnation, of love. Janáček said that in
his writing “note after note fell smouldering from my pen”. This is a
program full of unleashed passion.