October 1, 2018

Paul Dukas, The Sorcerer & Mickey Mouse

Today, October 1, is the birthday of Paul Dukas, the French composer, critic, scholar and teacher.

Next month, on November 18, Mickey Mouse turns ninety. What on earth do they have in common you might ask.      

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (L'apprenti sorcier), by Dukas, was instrumental in elevating Mickey Mouse to classical music stardom. In the mouse's honor there will be two blogs on his birthday that have been fun to research.        

Although The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the work Dukas is most known for, was already a popular concert piece, it was brought to a much vaster audience through its inclusion in the 1940 Walt Disney animated concert film Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice. Disney had acquired the music rights in 1937 when he planned to release a separate Mickey Mouse film, which, at the suggestion of Leopold Stokowski, was eventually expanded into Fantasia (link below).    

Mickey Mouse as the Apprentice

Stokowski's version for the soundtrack of Fantasia remains one of the most famous interpretations of the work. Although too early for high fidelity, the performance was recorded using multi-tracks and was the first use of stereophonic sound in a film. It is the only part of the film for which Stokowski conducted a studio orchestra, rather than the Philadelphia Orchestra. The New York Times and Variety gave it rave reviews when it premiered on November 14, 1940 at the Broadway Theater (links below).    

In terms of the story-line of the film, the sorcerer's final anger with his apprentice which appears in Fantasia does not appear in the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe poem, Der Zauberlehrling, which was the basis for the tone poem.         

Dukas was born in Paris in 1865. His father, Jules Dukas, was a banker, and his mother, Eugénie, was a pianist. His mother died when he was five years old. He took piano lessons, but showed no unusual musical talent until he was 14 when he began to compose while recovering from an illness. He entered the Conservatoire de Paris at the end of 1881, aged 16, and studied piano with Georges Mathias, harmony with Théodore Dubois and composition with Ernest Guiraud. Among his fellow students was Claude Debussy, with whom Dukas formed a close friendship.

Dukas's teachers, Georges Mathias (top l.), Théodore Dubois (top r.) 
Ernest Guiraud (bottom l.), Dukas's fellow student Claude Debussy

Two early overtures survive from this period, Goetz de Berlichingen (1883) and Le Roi Lear (1883). The manuscript of the latter was rediscovered in the 1990s and the work was performed for the first time in 1995.

In the decade after L'apprenti sorcier, Dukas completed two complex and technically demanding large-scale works for solo piano: the Piano Sonata (1901), dedicated to Saint-Saëns, and Variations, Interlude and Finale on a Theme by Rameau (1902). His last major work was the sumptuous oriental ballet La Péri (1912). Described by the composer as a "poème dansé".  

Costume design by Léon Bakst for Dukas's La Péri - 1922 

Dukas was a perfectionist and destroyed many of his pieces out of dissatisfaction with them. Only a few of his compositions remain.  

In 1920, he became a member of the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium. He was appointed professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire in 1927. He also taught at the École Normale de Musique in Paris.          

In the last years of his life, Dukas became well known as a teacher of composition. His students included Jehan Alain, Elsa Barraine, Yvonne Desportes, Francis Chagrin, Carlos Chávez, Maurice Duruflé, Georges Hugon, Jean Langlais, Olivier Messiaen, Manuel Ponce, Joaquín Rodrigo, David Van Vactor and Xian Xinghai.

Paul Dukas & students, Paris Conservatoire, 1929 
Olivier Messiaen, extreme right; Maurice Duruflé next to him

Paul Dukas died in 1935, he was 69 years old. He was cremated and his ashes were placed in the columbarium at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.       
Viewfinder links: 
Claude Debussy       
Camille Saint-Saëns     
Net links:        

Paul Dukas works     
NY Times ~  
     Fantasia, an Exciting New Departure in Film Entertainment  
Variety ~ Fantasia            
Smithsonian ~ Fantasia was a Critical and Box-Office Failure      
Encyclopædia Britannica  ~ Fantasia       
Disneyland Fan Club ~ 15 Fascinating Facts About Fantasia      
YouTube links:        

Leopold Stokowski (with the Philadelphia Orchestra) ~   
                The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Fantasia film)          
"Always remember that it [music] 
should be written from the heart and not with the head." 
                          ~ Paul Dukas
Styrous® ~ Monday, October 1, 2018     

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