JANÁČEK Leoš, String Quartet No.1 Kreutzer Sonata

Adagio – Con moto 
Con moto 
Con moto – Vivo – Andante 
Con moto – (Adagio) – Più mosso 

Janáček composed his 1st String Quartet in 1923, taking as his inspiration Kreutzer Sonata, the novella by Tolstoy that had in turn been inspired by Beethoven’s famous violin sonata. Janáček’s quartet was composed in just a few days, and it’s probable that he drew on material from an earlier piano trio (now lost) based on the same story. The music does not follow Tolstoy’s narrative in detail, but it does evoke the rage and passion of the protagonists, using a musical language made up of generally quite short motifs that form both the melodies and the urgent, thrilling ideas that accompany them. Janáček also alludes to Beethoven’s Kreutzer, most obviously at the start of the third movement where he recalls the second theme of Beethoven’s opening movement. Janáček’s own motto theme in the Quartet is the rising idea heard at the opening. This returns at the start of the fourth movement, but this time it is followed by a melancholy violin theme, marked ‘as if in tears’. Janáček’s final transformation of the motto theme is magnificent: a furious fortissimo, accompanied by chords marked ‘festive, like an organ’. After this ecstatic moment of release, the music subsides back to the brooding, unsettled mood of the opening. 


© Nigel Simeone 


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