French composer Paul Dukas (1865-1935) was one of the leading orchestrators and composition teachers of his day. He studied at the Paris Conservatory where he became friends with fellow composer Claude Debussy. He wrote prolifically for piano, orchestra, and the opera stage, but his perfectionist tendencies led him to destroy or withdraw many of his works.
Dukas’s L’apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) is one of those iconic pieces that it seems like everyone knows, largely thanks to Disney’s treatment of it in Mickey Mouse’s segment of 1940’s Fantasia. It was a hit with orchestras and bands even before the mouse got hold of it. Dukas wrote the original orchestral piece in 1897, and Frank Winterbottom created the band version in 1923 for Boosey & Hawkes. It is based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem of the same name (Der Zauberlehrling in Goethe’s native German). The story of the poem was replicated very closely in the Fantasia segment. In it, the sorcerer’s apprentice gleefully brings a broom to life to draw a bath for him while his master has stepped out. Once the bath is full, he realizes he does not know the magic that will stop the broom. In an ever-wetter panic, he hacks the broom in 2 with an axe, only to have both pieces come back to life and continue the deluge of water. Out of options, he seeks his master’s help and all is once again right with the world.
The famous Disney version is edited in several places. But luckily for us, the Koninklijke Harmoniekapel Delft (a Dutch wind band) has put together a video that uses the Fantasia footage and puts all of the original material back in. AND it’s the same band version that we’re playing! Watch:
To compare, here’s a Japanese orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy doing the unedited version with no mouse:
Goethe’s original poem in side-by-side original German and English translation.
This piece is a Senior Choice for clarinetist and world traveler Alicia Samuel, CUWE class of 2011.
Finally, I fully admit that I’m purposely making no mention of the new-ish live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice movie. I fail to see what Nicholas Cage can add to this discussion.