«Music is the shorthand of emotion.» Leo Tolstoy
Ivry GITLIS @ BEETHOVEN Kreutzer Sonata (complete) Martha Argerich, live 1999
Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, commonly known as the Kreutzer Sonata, is a violin sonata which Ludwig van Beethoven published as his Opus 47. It is known for its demanding violin part, unusual length (a typical performance lasts slightly less than 40 minutes), and emotional scope — while the first movement is predominantly furious, the second is meditative and the third joyous and exuberant.
The sonata was originally dedicated to the violinist George Bridgetower (1780–1860), who performed it with Beethoven at the premiere on 24 May 1803 at the Augarten Theatre at a concert that started at the unusually early hour of 8:00 am. Bridgetower sight-read the sonata; he had never seen the work before, and there had been no time for any rehearsal. However, research indicates that after the performance, while the two were drinking, Bridgetower insulted the morals of a woman whom Beethoven cherished. Enraged, Beethoven removed the dedication of the piece, dedicating it instead to Rodolphe Kreutzer, who was considered the finest violinist of the day. However, Kreutzer never performed it, considering it «outrageously unintelligible». He did not particularly care for any of Beethoven’s music, and they only ever met once, briefly.
Sources suggest the work was originally titled «Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer [Bridgetower], gran pazzo e compositore mulattico» (Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Brischdauer, big wild mulatto composer), and in the composer’s 1803 sketchbook, as a «Sonata per il Pianoforte ed uno violino obligato in uno stile molto concertante come d’un concerto».
The Judge continues, “the hermits and anchorites of the early Christian times considered abstinence from marriage and from all sexual commerce as the triumph of sanctity and the proof and means of spiritual perfection. Modern Christianity, with cleaner and more sensible view of the subject, while it denounces licentiousness, looks upon marriage as a divine institution. Roman Catholics regard it with the veneration of a sacrament, and all Christian sects see in it an institution which lies at the foundation of all civilized society. Count Tolstoi’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ may contain very absurd and foolish views about marriage. It may shock our ideas of the sanctity and nobility of that important relation, but it cannot on that account be called an obscene libel. There is no obscenity in it. On the contrary, it denounces obscenity of every description on almost every page. Nor can the language in which he expresses his ideas be said to be in any proper sense obscene, lewd or indecent. It is not against the law to print or sell books which contain ideas and doctrines upon religious subjects which conflict with and are contrary to the orthodox teachings upon the subject. Every man has the right under such a government as ours to discuss such questions, either orally or in print, if he does so in a proper and becoming manner, and does not in doing so violate the decencies of life. He may call in question and argue against any received doctrine of the Christian faith, if he uses in doing so proper and becoming language but if one should introduce into such a discussion blasphemous language or ideas, or obscene, lewd, or indecent thoughts or words, or should make his description the occasion for reviling and scoffing at the most sacred things, or speaking of them in a profane, abusive, or indecent manner, he would unquestionably be liable to be indicted and punished therefor.»
“They played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata,” he continued. “Do you know the first presto? You do?” he cried. “Ugh! Ugh! It is a terrible thing, that sonata. And especially that part. And in general music is a dreadful thing! What is it? I don’t understand it. What is music? What does it do? And why does it do what it does? They say music exalts the soul. Nonsense, it is not true! It has an effect, an awful effect – I am speaking of myself – but not of an exalting kind. It has neither an exalting nor a debasing effect but it produces agitation. How can I put it? Music makes me forget myself, my real position; it transports me to some other position, not my own. Under the influence of music it seems to me that I feel what I do not really feel, that I understand what I do not understand, that I can do what I cannot do. I explain it by the fact that music acts like yawning, like laughter: I am not sleepy but I yawn when I see someone yawning; there is nothing for me to laugh at, but I laugh when I hear people laughing.
“Music carries me immediately and directly into the mental condition in which the man was who composed it. My soul merges with his and together with him I pass from one condition into another, but why this happens I don’t know. You see, he who wrote, let’s say, the Kreutzer Sonata – Beethoven – knew of course why he was in that condition; that condition caused him to do certain actions and therefore that condition had a meaning for him, but for me – none at all. That is why music only agitates and doesn’t lead to a conclusion. Well, when a military march is played the soldiers march to the music and the music has achieved its object. A dance is played, I dance and the music has achieved its object. Mass has been sung, I receive Communion, and that music too has reached a conclusion. Otherwise it is only agitating, and what ought to be done in that agitation is lacking. That is why music sometimes acts so dreadfully, so terribly. In China, music is a State affair. And that is as it should be. How can one allow anyone who pleases to hypnotize another, or many others, and do what he likes with them? And especially that this hypnotist should be the first immoral man who turns up?
“It is a terrible instrument in the hands of any chance user! Take that Kreutzer Sonata, for instance, how can that first presto be played in a drawing-room among ladies wearing low-necked dresses? To hear that played, to clap a little and then to eat ices and talk of the latest scandal? Such things should only be played on certain important significant occasions, and then only when certain actions answering to such music are wanted; play it then and do what the music has moved you to. Otherwise an awakening of energy and feeling unsuited both to the time and the place, to which no outlet is given, cannot but act harmfully. At any rate that piece had a terrible effect on me; it was as if quite new feelings, new possibilities, of which I had till then been unaware, had been revealed to me. ‘That’s how it is: not at all as I used to think and live, but that way,’ something seemed to say within me. What this new thing was that had been revealed to me I could not explain to myself, but the consciousness of this new condition was very joyous. All those same people, including my wife and him, appeared in a new light.