1803: Ludwig van Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.9 (aka The Kreutzer Sonata) premieres.
1889: Leo Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata is published, taking inspiration from Beethoven's work.
1923: Leoš Janáček writes String Quartet No.1 (aka Kreutzer Sonata), taking inspiration from Tolstoy's work.
2010: Laura Wade's play Kreutzer vs Kreutzer premieres, taking inspiration from the work of Beethoven, Tolstoy and Janáček.
It's the perfect example of how artists and creatives inspire one another across the barriers of time and language, and how the work of one genius can provoke the best in others (although it seems only people whose names begin with the letter L). Laura Wade's Kreutzer vs Kreutzer - billed as "a play for voices" - is the perfect last lap in an artistic relay race that's been running for over 200 years. She manages to throw the individual works which serve as her inspiration into sharp focus, while also knitting them together into one cohesive and immensely rewarding whole.
Above: Beethoven and Janacek
Enter Wade to bring some perspective to the drama. Pozdnyshev believes it was Beethoven's music which changed his wife's internal state of mind, as the composition is "too powerful to be played in polite society". So Act 1 of Kreutzer vs Kreutzer sees Samuel West take the role of the violinist and Jemima Rooper the wife, and as they play Beethoven's music (actually played by professional musicians from London's Aurora Orchestra), we see them fall in lust with one another, and they consummate the affair. Ultimately, they are caught out by her husband, and he kills her. That was Tolstoy's take on the truth.
Wade has put a mirror to Tolstoy's story and shown that what the author wants the reader to believe may not always necessarily be the truth of a situation, as in life. Pozdnyshev's wife may or may not have had an affair with the violinist, but either way, she ends up dead at the hands of a dangerously jealous man.
So what influences each side of this coin? The music! In Act 1, when the musicians end up in bed together, they have played Beethoven's emotionally varied suite of music, performed in three movements - the furious Adagio sostenuto - Presto, the contemplative, calmer Andante con variazioni, and the joyful, exuberant Presto. Structurally, it reflects the dialogue in the actors' two-hander, where they meet, he flirts outrageously, she flirts back, they rehearse their concert, and then they sleep together.
|Violinist Thomas Gould|
But it is the Czech composer's fractious, dissonant yet melodic music which really makes Wade's piece sing. The music is unusual, and perhaps not as familiar to some as Beethoven's work, and proves that the German, the Russian and the Czech were perfect collaborators across the decades. Wade is the expert interpreter and conductor of something that has taken centuries to hatch.
Rooper and West give nuanced performances. They are reserved, stately and mannered during Act 1, but more familiar, chatty and animated in Act 2, again reflecting the music they are "playing". West has plenty of charisma and truth for his part, while Rooper is the perfect replacement for Katherine Parkinson, who had to pull out of the play's mini-tour due to unforeseen circumstances. Rooper is one of the UK's classiest young actors, and she brings the requisite poise and playfulness to her part.
Directed sparingly by Theatr Clwyd's artistic director Tamara Harvey, Kreutzer vs Kreutzer is a joy for classical music fans, but gives so much more than pitch-perfect recitals by also weaving the works of three masters into one astonishing play about perspective, truth and sexual jealousy.
PS: If you're wondering just who this Kreutzer was who inspired such greatness, he was a French violinist (1766-1831) to whom Beethoven rededicated his sonata after he fell out with the original dedicatee, the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860). Bridgetower vs Bridgetower just isn't as catchy.
Writer: Laura Wade
Director: Tamara Harvey
Cast: Samuel West (The Man); Jemima Rooper (The Woman)
Music: Violin Sonata No.9 (Kreutzer Sonata) by Ludwig van Beethoven and String Quartet No.1 (Kreutzer Sonata) by Leoš Janáček, performed by Ana-Maria Vera (piano) and the Aurora Orchestra (Thomas Gould - violin, Maria Spengler - violin, Rebecca Jones - viola, Christian Elliott - cello)
Performed at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, on October 3rd, 2016
Kreutzer vs Kreutzer at Theatr Clwyd website (retrieved Sep 27 2016)
Wikipedia entry for Tolstoy's Kreutzer Sonata (retrieved Sep 27 2016)
Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.9 (retrieved Sep 27 2016)
Janáček's String Quartet No.1 (retrieved Sep 27 2016)