Anna Karenina Part 7, Chapter 5 Summary

Leo Tolstoy

Part 7, Chapter 5 Summary

Levin and Natalia see two interesting performances at the concert. One is a fantasia titled King Lear and the other is a quartet dedicated to the memory of Bach. Both are new and done in the newest style, so Levin is eager to form an opinion of them. After escorting his sister-in-law to her seat, Levin stands against a column and tries to listen as attentively as possible. He tries to eliminate all distractions and merely listen to the music; he does not watch the gesticulating conductor or the great ladies in their fancy bonnets who are undoubtedly thinking of everything except the music. He tries to avoid getting trapped in conversations of any kind and simply looks at the floor in front of him and listens.

The more he listens to King Lear, however, the less he feels able to form a clear opinion of it. While there is a prolonged beginning which is preparation for some kind of emotion, after that the piece seems to follow nothing but the whims of the composer. The sounds are complex but disconnected. This fragmented performance is disappointing and even disagreeable to him, for the emotional peaks and valleys are unexpected and they lead to nothing. Each emotion follows the next without any connection, “like the emotions of a madman.” And, like a madman, these emotions spring up unexpectedly.

When it is over, Levin is exhausted and bewildered by the “fruitless strain” on his attention. The crowd applauds loudly and everyone rises to socialize during the break. Levin is anxious to see what other people think about the performance. He finds several music connoisseurs and joins their conversation. Their conversation is detailed but Levin follows it and even asks a question. He had forgotten that the musical piece was representative of King Lear, and he quickly reads the notes in the program about the Shakespearean play. One of the music lovers tells Levin that the work can only be understood in the context of the program notes.

During the next intermission, Levin joins the men again and they discuss the defects of Wagner and those who follow him. It is a complicated conversation, and the rather intricate and overwrought comparison Levin makes is confusing even to him. Levin does not hear the second piece, for one of the connoisseurs stands beside him and criticizes the work for its “excessive affected assumption of simplicity.” As Levin and Natalia are leaving, he meets many more acquaintances with whom he talks about politics, music, and people they know in common. Among these is Count Bol, and only then does Levin remember he was supposed to have called on him earlier in the day, as Kitty requested. Natalia tells him it is perfect: he can call now and perhaps the count will not be home. Levin can come get her from her meeting after he has made the call.