ENS.2020.7 | 14′
Das Zaubertheater, Automata for Symphonic Winds is a homage to the author Steven Millhauser in particular and the odd, captivating history of automatons in general.
Intricate mechanical devices popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, usually designed to mimic the appearance of humans or animals, automata were the ancestors of robots, and could perform various simple tasks such as writing letters or making drawings—although the most famous, Vaucanson’s duck, was specifically known for its ability to eat food, digest it, and shit it out.
Millhauser has long been fascinated by these strange and captivating creations, and they feature in many of his works, most notably in his story The New Automaton Theater and the great novella August Eschenberg. Both relate at length fantastical elaborations on the theme of automatons, and each features at its heart elaborately described performances by automatons at a venue he appropriately calls Das Zaubertheater, the magic theater.
There are two movements, named after the famous commedia della’arte figures Pierrot and Columbine, who feature in Millhauser’s stories. True to his character, Pierrot is colorful and animated, yet clunky and halting, while that of his partner Columbine is more lyrical, though ultimately no less awkward and stumbling.
Das Zaubertheater was composed for symphonic winds (the woodwind and brass sections of an orchestra), the better to suggest the intricate mechanisms operating within the automata, and lasts about 14 minutes.