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What’s in a Name?


by Gerald Carpenter

GETTING THE NOD: The Camerata Pacifica will open its season of chamber music concerts on Friday, September 15, in Santa Barbara, with a program of certified masterpieces: Ludwig Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Opus 47 “Kreutzer,” performed by violinist Catherine Leonard and pianist Warren Jones; Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Opus 19, with cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist Robert Thies; and concluding with Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Opus 100, D. 929, played by Jones, Leonard, and Aznavoorian. With these artists and these works, the Camerata is obviously leading trumps.

There will be a lunchtime performance of the Schubert at 1 p.m., and the full program will be performed at 8 p.m., both concerts taking place in the Camerata’s new venue, the exquisite Lehmann Hall in the main building of the Music Academy of the West. For tickets and other information, call 884-8410 or visit them online at cameratapacifica.org.

The so-called Kreutzer Sonata gets its name from one Rodolphe Kreutzer, a contemporary (1778-1832) of Beethoven and one of the most celebrated violinists of the age. The sonata is dedicated to him. Despite his name, Kreutzer was French, born at Versailles and died in Geneva. According to an article about him in Grove’s Dictionary, “Kreutzer did not require Beethoven’s dedication to make his name immortal.” The writer’s statement is based on the fact that, in his time, Kreutzer was famous not only for his virtuosity but for his numerous compositions, and for founding and promulgating one of the dominant schools of violin playing.

Still, I rather doubt that, outside the somewhat limited circles of musicologists and pedagogues, Kreutzer’s name would, in fact, be all that immortal if Beethoven hadn’t slapped it on his greatest violin sonata in a rage at the original dedicatee. Because the funny part of the story is that Kreutzer never played the work, and considered it, in his judgment, “unplayable.”

The sonata was first performed in 1802, by the Polish-West Indian violinist George Bridgetower (1779–1860), with Beethoven himself at the piano. Bridgetower’s father was a black West Indian who was employed by Haydn’s patrons, the Princes Esterházy. He was a child prodigy, and on a visit to England, the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, became his legal guardian. On a tour of Hapsburg lands, he met Beethoven, who befriended him. Although the sonata was a great success when premiered, the friendship did not last. Bridgetower and Beethoven got drunk together a week after the concert. The violinist made a disparaging remark about a lady who was a close friend of the composer, and that was that. (Around the same time, Napoleon crowned himself emperor and Beethoven changed the name of his Third Symphony from “Bonaparte” to “Eroica,” so maybe that was a brief trend with him.)

Thanks to Beethoven, Kreutzer’s name also lives on in the title of a Tolstoy short story, “The Kreutzer Sonata” (1889), in which the narrator’s wife, a pianist, plays the sonata with a handsome violinist, and plays it so passionately that the narrator is convinced they are having an affair and kills her. And, finally, the Czech composer Leosˇ Janácˇek (1854-1928), inspired to renewed creativity by an extramarital affair, named his first string quartet The Kreutzer Sonata in honor of the Tolstoy story.

Coming this Saturday, September 16, the Santa Barbara Master Chorale will put on an event called The Val Verde Affair, a benefit fundraiser for the chorale at the historic Val Verde Estate. Described as “an afternoon of dance; live music of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s; great hors d’oeuvres; and silent auction,” the Affair is by invitation only, so for information on getting invited, call 967-8287.



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