Can art conquer evil? Can it stop an almost inconceivable crime like six-fold infanticide? In Hartmut Lange’s story, a world-renowned artist takes up this very fight.
“The Waldstein Sonata”, a 1984 novella, sees Franz Liszt appear in the Führerbunker on 1 May 1945. Though the pianist and composer died in 1886, Lange sends him belowground during the Battle of Berlin for a singular concert at the invitation of one Magda G. (Hitler had already committed suicide the day before.) That this piano performance could decide between life and death quickly becomes clear, as Liszt learns from Magda G. what she and Joseph G. – it is the Goebbelses who are implied here – have planned for their six children after the concert. Liszt decides to thwart the murder with Beethoven’s famous sonata.
It is a truly spooky scene that Lange, born in 1937 and living in Berlin, unfolds in just a few pages. With a chilling sobriety, he creates a breathless tension, depicting the old pianist’s sudden struggle to use his art to defend humanity itself.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Hartmut Lange was dramaturge at East Berlin’s Deutsches Theater, and in 1965 he fled the GDR for West Germany through Yugoslavia. Through his countless novellas and stories, he has developed into a grandmaster of the short form. In “The Waldstein Sonata”, Lange links German history and music, morality and inhumanity, crime and the sublime, creating a fascinating historical fantasy that is really a nightmare at heart. But his question behind it is yet farther-reaching: How much power does great art really have?