Dukas, Paul - The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Paul Dukas
b. Paris, France / October 1, 1865; d. Paris / May 17, 1935

A gifted but highly self-critical composer, Dukas allowed only a small number of his works to be published. Of these, the only one to be performed regularly is this brilliant symphonic scherzo, which he composed in 1897. It was inspired by a poem that the eminent German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in 1797. Goethe’s story drew upon a much earlier tale, The Lie-Fancier, by the Greek author Lucian (120-200 A.D.).

A young man, in the course of learning the art of magic from an aging sorcerer, tries to use certain spells during his master’s absence. Assigned to bear water to a well, he commands a broom to perform the job instead. But after the well is filled, he cannot remember the spell to make his wooden servant stop. Seizing an axe, he chops the broom in two. But then both pieces continue the task, raising the tide still further. Only the sorcerer’s timely return averts a total disaster.

The score portrays the events of the program in graphic detail, making it easy to follow the story. Dukas displayed an extraordinary command of the large late-Romantic orchestra, and a strong gift for evoking a fanciful atmosphere. These are talents that he shared with Russian composers of the same period such as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The quirky theme for the magic broom is particularly striking, especially when the bassoons introduce it.

This piece is known to generations of film goers as the music that accompanies the antics of Mickey Mouse in the 1940 Walt Disney concert film, Fantasia. According to celebrated conductor Leopold Stokowski, the project developed from a chance meeting with Disney in a Hollywood restaurant. Disney told him that he was planning a short cartoon using Dukas’ music; Stokowski agreed to conduct the soundtrack. The film turned out so brilliantly that Disney proposed adding other segments to make up a full-length concert feature. He and Stokowski collaborated on choosing them – and Fantasia was born.

Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2018

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