Spätwerk (= Late works). There are two basic implications when talking about late works. First, the conventional view that late works are rich compositions by a mature and wise composer. This approach stresses the dignity and complexity of the compositions and implies that they embody the summit of an artist’s compositional development. Seen in this respect, late works are ending points where all the paths of a composer’s artistic endeavour lead to, but with no paths leading away from there. Then there exists a second view of late works, the one I prefer. Instead of seeing them as the dead end of a composer’s output, they can also be understood as pointing towards a music of the future, tagging labyrinthine paths to follow and shedding light on uncharted territory to explore. Seen in this way, late works are starting points for travellers in music, they hint at what is to come.
The program of Gerhard Oppitz’s concert at the Herkulessaal in Munich on Thursday included several late Liszt pieces, among them Schlaflos! and Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch from 1885 which were framed by the late Beethoven sonatas nos. 30-32. At first this all-Spätwerk program seemed a bit odd, with Beethoven’s op. 109 and op. 110 before the intermission and then in the second half starting with two “typical” Liszt pieces, the Impromptu and the Bagatelle from 1878. For a moment, they did not appear to be a good fit with the Beethoven sonatas at all. “Randomly put together,” was my first thought. But then, with Schlaflos! and Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch a phenomenal transformation took place. Through Oppitz’s interpretation, unsparing and direct, my senses were sharpened to hear not only the actual music of the pieces, but also the connections to the music that came afterwards, or could have come after these pieces, the uncomposed future of Liszt’s music if you will. How similar this music sounded to Scriabin or to the music Busoni envisioned! Following the Trauermarsch Oppitz played Beethoven’s monumental c-minor sonata and because of the experience with the previous pieces it sounded like music I’ve never heard before: completely detached from all other pieces, out of space and time.
This quasi existential revelation was due to the clever programming but mostly due to Oppitz’s all-consuming interpretation. From the first moment on he displayed an amazing stage presence that filled the huge hall up to the last row of the second balcony. Fully concentrated on the music nothing escaped his attention and likewise the audience was also highly alert and sucked into the music. In addition to his attention of the details, Oppitz skillfully shaped the dramatic curve of the evening by keeping the audience between pieces completely silent.