ASPECT does not stand for anything, as far as I know. It is not an acronym. It is a “Foundation for Music and Arts” in New York, established by Irina Knaster, an elegant impresario from Odessa (that musical capital).
The purpose of ASPECT is to provide “music in context.” An audience hears an “amalgam of performance, lecture, and discussion.”
Last Thursday night, there was an ASPECT event at the Italian Academy, a component of Columbia University. Above the stage is a saying: “Moribus Antiquis Res Stat Romana Virisque.” It comes from Ennius, the father of Roman poetry (239 B.C.–169 B.C.), and means, “The Roman state survives by its ancient customs and its manhood.”
Let me confess that I knew none of this off the top of my head. It was Google that knew.
The theme of the event was The Kreutzer Sonata—the novella of Tolstoy (1889), which takes its title from Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, Op. 47, which is nicknamed the “Kreutzer.” Beethoven dedicated the sonata to Rodolphe Kreutzer, a French violinist, despite that last name, who, however, declined to play it.
To begin the evening, Ignat Solzhenitsyn came out and played a little ditty—a little waltz—on the piano. He then asked the audience, “Do you know who wrote that?” One man guessed—Leo Tolstoy. And that answer was right, sort of.
Tolstoy was once credited with the waltz, and he said that he had indeed written it. This was not true. Later, he felt embarrassed to correct the record.
Onstage, Solzhenitsyn went on to discuss Tolstoy’s life, and in particular The Kreutzer Sonata, using pictures—slides—as he went. (I realize that “slides” is an antique term.) A fascinating life, Tolstoy led. He was a glorious weirdo and genius.
Not long ago, I did a podcast with Norman Podhoretz. He said that, for his money, Anna Karenina is the best novel. The greatest novel ever written. In a later podcast, I mentioned this to Roger Scruton (now Sir Roger Scruton). He said that no greater novel was ever written. But he judged War and Peace, along with a few other novels (by others), equal to it.
After his “illustrated talk,” as it was billed, Solzhenitsyn played Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata with the violinist Mark Steinberg. Then came intermission, complete with refreshments, at no extra charge.
In the second half of the program, a string quartet took the stage. This was the Ariel Quartet, whose name added a Shakespearean touch. They first played the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1, a movement that became famous all over the world, in various arrangements, as Andante Cantabile.
An American composer, Samuel Barber, achieved a similar success. He took the slow movement of his string quartet (the only one he ever wrote), arranged it for chamber orchestra, and called it Adagio for Strings. He knew he had a hit on his hands too. He wrote a letter while composing his quartet: “I have just finished the slow movement of my quartet today—it is a knockout!” Yup.
Barber studied with Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and so would George Walker. (Ignat Solzhenitsyn teaches there today.) Walker took the slow movement of a string quartet of his own, arranged it for chamber orchestra, and called it Lyric for Strings. Here it is in the original version; here it is in the arrangement.
But back to the Italian Academy, ASPECT, and the Ariel Quartet: they concluded the evening with—what else?—Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, nicknamed “Kreutzer Sonata,” and inspired by the Tolstoy novella.
Afterward, more refreshments were served. Thoroughly civilized, like Irina Knaster and her foundation at large.