Leo Tolstoy //
This novella was published at the very end of the nineteenth century. It was censored immediately by the Russian government, and when you read it now, it is almost understandable why it was banned. The Kreutzer Sonata shows us a dark side of love.
The narrative has a very classical form: one man sits opposite to the other and starts telling him a story, simply because it has to be told. We hardly get to know the other man: he acts merely as the listener.
The two men meet during a seemingly endless train journey – who could think of a better environment to tell a vicious Russian story? Once the storyteller starts talking, triggered by a conversation of his fellow travellers about love, he lets out that he is Pozdnysjew, the man who has murdered his wife. Soon, the fellow travellers leave the wagon. The listener stays put, and is rewarded by the other man with strong, black tea, and the story.
In detail, he relates to the loose sexual moral he cherished before he met his wife. Women, in Pozdnysjew’s view, are experts in seduction; as a revenge to their subservient position in society. During his marriage, he both hated and passionately loved his wife, but hatred predominated. When he suspected that she had an affair with her violin teacher, he saw no other option but to murder her. He hated the recital that his wife and her teacher practised together (Beethoven's Violin Sonata no. 9, also known as the Kreutzer Sonata), as much as he hated the power his wife had over him with her body:
"A terrible thing is that sonata, especially the presto! And a terrible thing is music in general. What is it? Why does it do what it does? They say that music stirs the soul. Stupidity! A lie! It acts, it acts frightfully (I speak for myself), but not in an ennobling way. It acts neither in an ennobling nor a debasing way, but in an irritating way. How shall I say it? Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really seem to feel what I do not feel, to understand what I do not understand, to have powers which I cannot have.”
Listening to the furious Kreutzer Sonata while reading this book, might make you more sympathetic to Pozdnysjew than you would like to admit. Booktunes thinks Czech composer Leoš Janáček fought this idea when composing his own Tolstoy inspired String Quartet No 1. What are your thoughts?
text by Kris Mooren / photo by Vikkies