“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (After a ballad by Goethe)
It is well that there was only one Debussy in France, else had we all become lotus-eaters! Paul Dukas’s orchestral scherzo, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” is a crackling Gallic joke. The ballad of Goethe affixed to the score tells an old and fantastical tale of the magician who was master of a broom`which, by means of incantation, he could call to his bidding. Now one day, in the magician’s absence, the rider of crocodiles, using the master’s words, ordered the broom to be-come a pestle, and fetch him some water. It did so immediately, and continued to do so; though ordered to stop. In desperation, the fellow took an ax and split the pestle in two; but this made matters worse, for it divided in half, and each half fetched water, which flowed in a torrent. Suddenly the magician reappeared, took in the situation, uttered words that set things right, then vanished in displeasure and was never seen again. In Goethe’s ballad these incidents are enacted by the Sorcerer and his Apprentice. The introduction, hinting at themes to come, including that of the Sorcerer’s command, is mysterious. After a while three bassoons begin the farcical juraping motive associated with the unrestrainable antics of the broom. The music grows wilder, the orchestra rocks with the rhythm. At a climax the Sorcerer motive is proclaimed. There is a pause in the racket, but the movement is soon resumed, accelerated and set off with all sorts of ingenious instrumental devices. Torrents of tone are released; there is a resounding climax, greater than the first. Then the word of command sounds forth again, and this time in earnest. All is well, and there is a return to the quiet of the introduction. A capital joke, with echoes of other French composers, such as Gounod and Chabrier.