Rodolphe Kreutzer was not enamoured with the German composer’s music but his name lives on thanks to Tolstoy
The beautiful Blue Danube of Johann Strauss’s imagination is anything but. I remember vividly the disappointment on visiting Vienna to find the magical waterway was some way from the centre of the city of my dreams.
Unlike the Liffey that defines Dublin, and the Thames, central to London, the Danube is largely irrelevant. It’s off to the side, like the Lagan in Belfast, and in Vienna green is its colour, certainly not blue.
The comparison with Belfast is entirely appropriate. The city takes its name from the Farset river that these days runs in a culvert under High Street.
Vienna — Wien in German — grew around a river of that name that now flows through it mostly underground, a series of subterranean tunnels delivering it, ultimately, into the waterway that has become synonymous with the city.
The River Wien has earned its status in the culture of the Austrian capital. It rises in the Vienna Woods, which inspired one of the waltzes of Johann Strauss the younger.
Among the buildings adjacent to the waterway is the Theater an der Wien, or the theatre on the Vienna river. Since it first opened in 1801, acclaimed in the leading cultural periodical of the day as the best of its kind, it has hosted many a memorable musical night. And the greatest of composers.
Beethoven actually lived in an apartment in the building for a time. It came as part of the deal offered by the impresario who developed the theatre.
Emanuel Schikaneder is best remembered as the man who provided the words for Mozart’s Magic Flute. But he’d a huge role in promoting Beethoven as well. He offered him a job as composer-in-residence, quite literally, and got payback in spades.
Schikaneder’s audiences were the first to hear four of Beethoven’s symphonies and two of his piano concertos. His only opera — Fidelio — had its initial outing at the venue as well.
On a plaque outside the building, it notes that, among other works, Beethoven composed his famous violin sonata — the Kreutzer — in the house.
There’s a story and a half behind that, known as his Violin Sonata No 9, it was written with a particular violinist in mind —and he played if for the first time in public.
George Bridgetower, born in Poland to a mother from eastern Europe and a father whose roots were in Africa, was huge. Beethoven himself accompanied him when the sonata was first performed, at the baroque palace at Augarten in Vienna, bizarrely at a breakfast recital.
But the pair fell out, over a disparaging remark made by Bridgetower about a woman of Beethoven’s acquaintance.
The composer removed the performer’s name from the dedication on the manuscript and reassigned it to another top-notch violinist, Rodolphe Kreutzer.
He didn’t fancy it. In fact, he didn’t much fancy Beethoven’s music at all, and he never actually played the piece.
Tolstoy found in the music inspiration for a short story. His take has inspired many an adaptation on stage and screen. We have the great Russian novelist to thank for keeping the Kreutzer Sonata alive.
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