Leoš Janáček: String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata"

1901   Kreutzer Sonata   by René François Xavier Prinet.

1901 Kreutzer Sonata by René François Xavier Prinet.

This was a work furiously composed by Janáček within the span of 15 days (13 - 28 October 1923). It was the outburst of his inspiration taken from Leo Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata" which taken its title from Beethoven's 9th sonata for violin and piano. Ironically, it is often thought that Janacek's work had relations to the classic by Beethoven, however that is not so true indeed.

Did Tolstoy, in all his pride of what is art, made a poetic symbol out of Beethoven's masterpiece? Was Janáček quartet then considered as a poetic imitation of Tolstoy's novella? Just some questions for us to ponder upon.

This work poses several challenges for its players, tempo changes, wide range of characters and expressions, the use of technique to create unique sound colors. The quartet has to be able to agree upon tempi changes to be able to transit between these changes together. More crucial than synchronization, are the relationships between motivic fragments, the skilful quartet has to form their own interpretation of the whole portrait, presented in pieces by Janáček for its performers to express. It is a work suitable for that of an ensemble that understands each of its players, but want to grow further to the next level.

This piece is definitely one that will intrigue, shock, and baffle listeners. Yet on a second or third listening of the work, one begins to realise the beauty with which Janáček handles this work. It is a skilful use of a standard quartet set-up (violins, viola, cello) to create a soundscape that accurately represents the themes in Tolstoy's novella, from its passionate outcries, to its schizophrenic switches in mood and emotions. We hear tonality, harmony and form in this work, however not used one bit in its conventions. This work is a representation of what is to come in the late 20th century, the completely abandonment of tradition, and subsequently, its embracing in the 21st century. (This will be another blog post altogether)


Mervin WongComment