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Gerald Carpenter: Arts & Lectures Presents Prize-Winning Ensemble

Kreutzer Sonata, a painting by René François Xavier Prinet (1901), is based on Leo Tolstoi’s novella, “The Kreutzer Sonata.” Click to view larger
Kreutzer Sonata, a painting by René François Xavier Prinet (1901), is based on Leo Tolstoi’s novella, “The Kreutzer Sonata.” (Courtesy photo)

UCSB Arts & Lectures is offering a concert by award-winning Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers, Ryan Meehan, violins; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello) at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, in the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall.

The Calidor String Quartet is a veritable constellation of rising stars, and the best way to get acquainted with them (before the Hahn Hall concert), both as individuals and as a group, is to go to their website, https://www.calidorestringquartet.com/.

The Calidor program consists of three quartets: Felix Mendelssohn's "String Quartet No. 3 in D-Major, Opus 44, No. 1 (1838);" Leoš Janáček's "String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer" (1923);" and Ludwig Beethoven's "String Quartet No. 9 in C-Major, Opus 59 ("Razumovsky") No. 3 (1806)."
 
The Janáček quartet, like its successor (known as "Love Letters") is a great, highly original work of art. How it bears the name "Kreutzer" is a study in artistic cross-pollination.

It all began with a quarrel over a woman, though not the usual kind of quarrel.

Beethoven's "Violin-Piano Sonata No. 9, [by convention in A-Major], Opus 47 (1803)" was written for, and initially dedicated to the composer's friend George Bridgetower (1778–1860), a violinist of some stature, who premiered the work, with Beethoven at the keyboard, on May 24, 1803.

A short time later, Beethoven and Bridgetower were drinking together and Bridgetower insulted the morality of a woman Beethoven worshipped.

Beethoven, ever impetuous, broke of with Bridgetower then and there, and went home to remove the sonata's dedication.

He dedicated it instead to the most highly regarded fiddler of the time, Rodolphe Kreutzer. The sonata became famous as "The Kreutzer Sonata."

Though the Beethoven sonata was revered throughout the 19th century for its purely musical values, it  became exponentially more famous outside the world of music when Leo Tolstoi published his short novel, The Kreutzer Sonata, in 1889.

This work, the story of a man who kills his wife when he catches her in bed with her lover, was a sensation and a scandal.

The wife was a pianist and her lover a violinist; they had begun their affair when they played the eponymous Beethoven sonata, and were swept up in its passionate currents.

Banned in Russia and the U.S., the novella circulated widely in mimeographed copies, and became a kind of romantic manifesto — which was exactly contrary to Tolstoi's intention, since he had written it to argue for the ideal of celibacy.

Tolstoi was always a more effective writer than he was a social critic.

Janáček had been inspired by the Tolstoi book when he composed his first string quartet, hence the nickname. In 1917, the composer had fallen hopelessly in love with Kamila Stösslová, who was married and 38 years younger than he was.

He wrote her more than 700 letters. The Tolstoi novel, as the Quakers would put it, spoke to his condition. Not that he and Stösslová had a carnal relationship, because they did not (though he had had adulterous affairs in the past).

Janáček's feelings for Stösslová were not reciprocated; she was mostly indifferent to his love, which was nevertheless the true inspiration for both his quartets.

The fact that his love had no physical release goes some way to account for the unique emotional intensity of these masterpieces.

Tickets to this concert are $35 for the general public, $9 for UCSB students with valid student ID. For tickets and more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures, 893-3535 or visit www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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