Last night I went to see the wonderful ‘Kreutzer vs Kreutzer‘, part of Music in the Round’s May Festival: Beethoven Revisited. Based on a Tolstoy story of a man who confesses to murdering his wife in a fit of jealousy, this setting is told from the perspective of the wife. A play for two actors (the brilliant Stacey Sampson and Sandy Batchelor), and a chamber music concert in two acts. This performance combined Laura Wade’s wonderful play, with Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in A Major (Op.47) in the first half, with Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata String Quartet No.1 in the second. From Ensemble 360, violinist Benjamin Nabarro played in both halves, with Tim Horton on piano in the first, and then with Claudia Ajmone-Marsan (violin), Ruth Gibson (viola) and Gemma Rosefield (cello – and her stock bright pink shoes) forming the quartet for Janacek. And what a clever juxtaposition.
The first half, flirtatious, flighty, light-hearted, funny, and the second half conflicted, complex, dark, haunting. Told initially as the story of an affair between a married woman and her music teacher (one cannot get more intimate, the text insinuates – what does music really do if not inspire the passions?), the second half retells the story as one of unrequited and restrained desire. Both have tragic consequences. What is the real story that led to the husband murdering his wife?
I had never heard much Janacek before this – or rather, I had never deliberately listened to much Janacek before this. The play enabled me to hear his work in a completely new light – a really exciting one. It sparked my imagination in a way that may not have otherwise happened. The discordant yet harmonious sounds told me unexpected things, and I wanted to keep listening. It made it relatable. I think there’s huge potential for making more chamber music like this, or for making more challenging pieces of music accessible through combining different artforms together… I think there’s even potential for using the Object Dialogue Box in a musical setting. And what better way to end the Janacek, and the tempestuous performance, than with a violin string snapping under all the pressure. This is what music does.