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Beethoven, "Kreutzer” Sonata for Piano and Violin: Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata"

By Justin Ohler

"The Kreutzer Sonata" Artwork

Painting by René-Xavier Prinet Depicting Tolstoy's Novella

René-Xavier Prinet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Leo Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata"

One area of interest related to Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata is a novel of the same title by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. The book, simply entitled The Kreutzer Sonata, was published in 1889 and centers around a man named Vasyla Pozdnishef and his relationship with his wife. Throughout his marriage, Pozdnishef constantly finds himself at odds with his wife and becomes paranoid that she is being unfaithful to him. As their marriage spirals downward, Pozdnishef’s wife meets a young violinist and they form a connection with each other. As the two become closer, Trukhashevsky comes to the couple’s home one day to play Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, which sends Pozdnishef into insanity. A few days later, Pozdnishef stabs his wife to death while sharing a meal with Trukhahevsky. 

Tolstoy was inspired to write this novel after listening to a performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. The novel explores the effect that music can have on one’s emotions and Pozdnishef’s inability to separate music as an art form from its emotional impact. When Pozdnyshev listens to his wife perform Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, he mistakenly associates the emotions expressed through the performance as a type of non-verbal message being sent to him, rather than just a form of art. Tolstoy also expresses his misogynistic views toward women throughout the novel and states that like music, women cause men to lose control of themselves. These themes have understandably left Tolstoy open to criticism throughout the years.