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Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) 12 minutes

Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, harp, and strings.

The great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), provided the inspiration for Paul Dukas’s magical orchestral scherzo, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  In a ballad entitled Die Zauberlehrling, Goethe tells the story of a magician’s apprentice.  The apprentice has observed his master’s ability to bring a broomstick to life in order to do the sorcerer’s bidding.  The apprentice has divined the sorcerer’s magical incantation.  And so, when the sorcerer departs, the apprentice animates the broomstick and orders it to fetch water.  The broomstick complies, but much too enthusiastically—soon, the magician’s house is overflowing with water.  The apprentice tries to stop the disaster by chopping the broom in half with an axe, but that causes two brooms to emerge and further inundate the house.  Finally, the sorcerer returns, and with a wave of his hand, restores calm.  The action of Goethe’s poem is masterfully portrayed in Dukas’s scintillating music.

Notes by Ken Meltzer © 2019