Is brutal murder a suitable subject for the refined medium of the string quartet?
Beethoven, Tolstoy and Leoš Janáček are the three contributors to this unusual work. Beethoven supplied both the title – The Kreutzer Sonata – and a phrase that’s quoted in the third movement; Tolstoy penned the narrative – a tale of a jealous husband and a murder; and Janáček wrote the music:
I had in mind a miserable woman, suffering, beaten, wretched, like the great Russian author Tolstoy wrote in his Kreutzer Sonata.
But while Tolstoy uses his story to attack the institution of marriage, Janáček draws a different moral. It’s hardly surprising, I suppose, that the composer of Jenůfa and Káťa Kabanová transformed Tolstoy’s anti-marriage tract into a paean of praise for the repressed, abused and ultimately murdered wife; and, in the process, conjured another of his great and memorable heroines.