Angry young man, proud young man, what is it that you are trying to hide? Your fierce demeanor will not delude me for I have felt what you feel. The anger, the revolt, the tension – and the arrogance. And over the years I have learned to control these emotional outbursts. Because behind the rage lies the feeling of vulnerability. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 fascinates me for the simultaneity of the violence and the fragility it expresses.
Composing on the rush
During the spring of 1803, Beethoven met George A. P. Bridgetower, an English violinist of Bengal descent, born in Poland. His true name was Hieronimo Hyppolito de Augusto. Bridgetower was a precocious child and performed in different theatres in London from the age of ten on. In 1803 then, Beethoven’s patron, Count Karl von Lichnowsky, arranged a concert where Beethoven and Bridgetower were to perform together. Beethoven composed a piece for violin and piano on the rush and dedicated it to the violinist. Because he lacked time, the composer wrote only the two first movements and used the finale of his Sonata Op. 30 No. as the third. He was able to copy the complete violin part for Bridgetower from his drafts, but he had to perform the piano part by relying in his memory.
Bridgetower and Beethoven fell out with each other a little later, and in 1805 Beethoven dedicated the piece to Rudolph Kreutzer, founder of a French violin school. Thus the nickname “Kreutzer Sonata”, by which it is usually referred to. Kreutzer himself never played the sonata judging it “outrageously unintelligible”. It is indeed extremely demanding on both the violinist and the pianist. Two musicians that have mastered this challenge are Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov with their beautiful recording. Both make you feel the dynamics of the piece in a passionate way, the deep-felt rage of the youth!
Tolstoi and Beethoven
Murderous rage caused by jealousy is also the subject of “The Kreutzer Sonata”, a wonderful novel written by Leo Tolstoi and immediately forbidden after the Russian had written it in 1887/89. A man kills his adulterous life, goes an a trip and seeks forgiveness from his fellow passengers on the train while he recounts his story. He explains how quickly love can turn into hate and how easily men are manipulated by their emotions, especially when a woman is at the origin of those emotions. The adulterous wife and her lover perform Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata” together, and the piece can also be interpreted as an allegory of that passionate affair with all the appropriate elements: love, guilt and violence.
© Charles Thibo