Quartet No. 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’

Composer: Leoš Janáček (b. 1854 - d. 1928)
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Composer: Leoš Janáček (b. 1854 - d. 1928)

Performance date: 08/07/2018

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1923

Duration: 00:18:06

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Doolan Quartet (David McElroy, Rachel Masterson [violins], Martha Campbell [viola], Grace Coughlan [cello) - [quartet]

Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ [1923]

1. Adagio – Con moto – vivo

2. Con moto

3. Con moto – vivo – andante

4. Con moto – adagio

His music is a breathtakingly close confrontation between tenderness and brutality, madness and peacefulness; it condenses the whole of life, with its hell and its paradise.

Milan Kundera

In the last ten years of his life Janácek wrote four magnificent operas – Katia Kabanova, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Makropulos Case and From the House of the Dead – as well as several other major works, including his two quartets. This sustained surge of creativity was partly driven by international recognition following the long-delayed production of Jenufa in Prague, partly by national pride following the independence of the Czech Republic in 1918, and partly by his infatuation with the 25-year-old Kamila Stösslová, whom he met when he was 63. He also attended several International Society of Contemporary Music festivals, which encouraged him to explore new paths.

Schönberg in Verklärte Nacht had shown how chamber music could be inspired by a literary text, and it was Tostoy’s novella ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ that gave Janá?ek the extra-musical inspiration that he needed to pour out his feelings for Kamila. The story spoke of the terrible power of music, as demonstrated by Beethoven’s passionate Kreutzer Sonata, named after a brilliant virtuoso. Tolstoy’s story is about marital unhappiness and infidelity, about a wife beaten and murdered by her jealous husband; Tolstoy’s purpose was to show that marriage can stand in the way of the transforming power of love, and that a union of souls can take place without marriage. This resonated powerfully with the love-struck composer, who had always been obsessed with the dramatic and symbolic possibilities of the unhappily married woman seeking love outside marriage. 

The work, without being programmatic, nonetheless dramatically depicts the confrontation between the desperate woman and the violent and jealous husband. The first movement opens with a short three-note motif accompanied by a jaunty dance figure, which serve as an introduction to the first act of the drama. This sees the first clash between a furious male theme and a tender female one. The introduction returns in the movement, just as it is to reappear in the finale. The second movement is also founded on strongly characterised and contrasting thematic ideas: a polka theme, a tremolo sul ponticello and a third, more lyrical, group. The third movement begins with a tender imitative theme, brutally interrupted by a furious figure, played sul ponticello and similar to its counterpart in the previous movement. This initial violent opposition is worked through several times before the feminine motif seems to bring the violence under control. Again the finale opens with a sad, peaceful melody leading into a passionate lament, culminating in the stunning recall of the motif that opened the whole quartet. The music finally sinks to an exhausted close.

Francis Humphrys