Dukas (1865-1935) - The
about it: study music for over seven years, win the Prix de Rome,
achieve high office as an administrator, teacher and member of the Legion
d’Honneur, become a respected writer, and compose lots of music - that’s
a recipe pour le grand succes, n’est-ce pas?
Not if you publish only about a dozen works, and destroy your mountain
of unpublished works shortly before you die. I don’t know why, but Paul
Dukas did exactly that, a voluntary leap into History’s dustbin, from which
he was rescued by the unlikeliest of heroes - the “Cartoon King”.
to revive the flagging “career” of his pet character, Walt Disney had a
revolutionary idea that would ultimately set “art music” before the widest
audience and make an art-form out of what was then simply slapstick entertainment.
Goethe’s salutary story, Dukas’ graphic music, and his own quirky genius
created The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, “starring” Mickey Mouse with
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra as “backing group”. From this
seed, fertilised by the mundane realisation that the original “short” alone
would never recoup its astronomical production costs, grew the legendary
aims make it all the more puzzling why Disney saw fit to over-egg his pudding.
Old “slapstick” habits die hard, so Goethe’s storyline was exaggerated,
and Dukas’ music butchered to suit. On first hearing the original score,
folk weaned on Fantasia (probably 99% of us) usually wonder what
on Earth’s going on! Right, so let’s get our story straight:
departing on business, instructs his petit apprenti to give the
workshop a good swill out during his absence. The lazy lad soon finds that
lugging hefty bucketsful of water up from the cellar well is too much like
hard work, so he sneaks a peek in the sorcerer’s Book of Spells and as
quickly as you can say “Hey, Presto!” he’s bewitched the broom into doing
the job. Everything goes swimmingly, at least until he realises he doesn’t
know how to apply the brakes. He tries every trick in the Book, to no avail.
In rising panic he grabs an axe, and stops the broom dead by splitting
it clean down the middle.
relief is short-lived. The spell is not broken. The bifurcated broom twitches
ominously, and resumes its labour - at the double! Aghast, he drops
the axe, despairingly aware of his folly (he’s lazy, but not stupid: you
have to be fairly smart to be apprenticed to a sorcerer). Now everything
really is going swimmingly - as the broom ignores his puny incantations,
so his rising panic is matched by a rising tide. The disaster is dispelled
only by the returning Sorcerer: he banishes the broom, sternly surveys
the sodden scene, and robustly reprimands the wretched lad.
converts the lesson, “a problem ‘halved’ is a trouble doubled”, into mesmerising
music, a “ballet of the imagination” cunningly coloured and brimming with
brilliantly imitative effects. That’s generally enough to keep most of
us happy. However, there’s more, isn’t there? The two “broom-laden” episodes
follow the same pattern, like two musical “expositions”. A superimposed
crescendo sweeps to a biggish climax, then resurges to an enormous one.
This shape is easy to see, but not so easy to realise musically - an apprentice
might stir up a potion, and “play it through, then play it again, louder”,
but there’d be no “magic”. It takes a real sorcerer to find exactly the
right ingredients, to mix them together just so, and to cast the spell
that enchants us as surely as that broomstick.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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