World War II

I have always wondered if music could transform a person. Of course, mythology and literature are filled with sweet-voiced female characters like the Sirens or Lorelei whose enchanted singing makes men lose their reason and face a cruel end — and I’m not even mentioning the famous Pied Piper who with his unsophisticated woodwind instrument delivered a deadly adversarial attack onto the proprioception systems of all Hamelin’s rodents and, after having been denied his honorarium, enchanted all the children of the respectable town and conducted them away.

No, I’m talking about a totally different transformation — without any black magic. In The Lives of Others, von Donnersmarck depicts a heartlessly precise totalitarian apparatchik, Stasi Captain codenamed HGW XX/7 ordered to put the famous playwright Georg Dreyman (and his comely actress girlfriend) suspected of dissent on 24-hour surveillance. The agent meticulously documents the most intimate moments of the writer’s life until one day Dreyman plays a piano piece, Sonata for a Good Man, stating “If you really hear it, can you be a bad person?” Haunted by that question, as if it were directed to him, HGW XX/7 starts covering for Dreyman’s dissident activity in his false surveillance reports — at the expense of his own career.

Of course, it’s only a fiction movie. No sonatas for good men exist in the piano repertoire. And people are stubborn in being themselves, too. Nevertheless, I’ve always wondered: can a sequence of twelve notes liberate the good hidden deep inside the human heart and prompt a hopeless evil-doer to an act of kindness? I believe there exists at least one piece that has this power — Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor.

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