In his 2010 novel, The Elephant Keepers’ Children, Danish author Peter Høeg uses Schubert songs to very practical end. One of the major characters in the book is a sonic engineer – she creates mechanisms that operate through speech or sound recognition. Her mechanisms are used throughout her house and as each Schubert melody is whistled, something new happens. Yes, there is a switch, but isn’t it more fun to turn on the lights in your study by whistling Mignon’s ‘Let Me Shine’ from the Goethe-Lieder (‘So lasst mich schienen,’ No. 3 from the Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, Op. 62, D. 877)?
Mignon II (So lasst mich scheinen), D. 727
Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, Op. 62, D. 877 No. 3. Lied der Mignon (So lasst mich scheinen)
The music system is activated by the beginning of Mignon’s ‘Teach me not to speak but make me silent’ (‘Heiß mich nicht reden, heiß mich schweigen, No. 2 from the Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, Op. 62, D. 877)
Mignon (Kennst du das Land?), D. 321
The guest toilet in the hall flushes with ‘Only he who knows longing can know how much I suffer’ (‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt,’ No. 4 from the Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, Op. 62, D. 877
Gesange aus Wilhelm Meister, Op. 62, D. 877 IV. Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
And the door to the larder opens to ‘Alas, his kiss,’ the climactic moment in ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade,’ an allusion that is quite embarrassing to the engineer’s pre-teen children, but they always loved the result:
Gretchen am Spinnrade, Op. 2, D. 118
‘The reward in this case that no one could do anything but marvel at what now occurs before our eyes: the trapdoor of the larder is raised, the ladder unfolds, and from out of the floor appears a guardrail for the safety of small children and dogs who might otherwise fall into the depths. And then the light goes on.’ (p. 130)
The toaster is turned on and off with ‘The gaze of your eyes in mine,’ but we haven’t figured out which Schubert song this might be – when you have a book translated from Danish to English, sometimes the details go awry – please write us if you know what Schubert song this might be.
We were thinking, however, of what fun might be had with this: turn on your bedroom lights in the morning and start the shower with a rousing chorus of “Wachet auf”? Approach your car singing “Ride of the Valkyie” and it could start up, awaiting your further instructions? Just as poor Ringo Starr had to sing the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to calm the attacking tiger in Help!, perhaps other music could be used for the betterment of humankind…
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