Tolstoy Begins The Kreutzer Sonata


As so often, the story came to him by someone telling him an anecdote. He started it, laid it aside, and allowed the idea to gestate. Then followed a period of intense writing and rewriting. In this case, the anecdote came from an actor called Vasily Nikolayevich Andreyev-Burlak. He had been to see the Tolstoys on June 20, 1887, and in the after-dinner circle he described meeting a stranger in a train, who had poured out to him the story of his wife’s unfaithfulness. Tolstoy had immediately doodled with this tale and at that point thought of it as his story of ‘sexual love’. The next year, in their Moscow house, he was again in Andreyev-Burlak’s company. Tolstoy’s children put on a little concert for a gathering of friends, Andreyev-Burlak came, and Repin the painter. The children’s teacher, Yuly Lyasota, played the violin part of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ sonata, with Tolstoy’s son Sergey at the piano. It was very much part of the family repertoire and, as always, Tolstoy was moved by it. But now, for not more rational reason than the Andreyev-Burlak was present, Tolstoy came to associate it with the wronged husband in the railway carriage. He would write a monologue for Andreyev-Burlak to recite. Repin could paint the scene. It could be made to incorporate one of his unfinished short stories, The Man Who Murdered His Wife. Andreyev-Burlak could be enjoined to ‘perform’ this story as a dramatic monologue, rather like the public readings of Dickens.

Tolstoy, A.N. Wilson, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1988.

Nathan Milstein plays Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (1st Mov):