The Sorcerer's Apprentice (French: L'apprenti sorcier) is a symphonic poem in the key of F minor by the French composer Paul Dukas, written in 1897. Subtitled "Scherzo after a ballad by Goethe", the piece was based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1797 poem of the same name. By far the most performed and recorded of Dukas's works, its notable appearance in the Walt Disney 1940 animated film Fantasia has led to the piece becoming widely known to audiences outside the classical concert hall.
Inspired by the Goethe poem, Dukas's work is part of the larger Romantic genre of programmatic music, which composers like Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, Jean Sibelius and Richard Strauss increasingly explored as an alternative to earlier symphonic forms. Unlike other tone poems, such as La mer by Debussy or Finlandia by Sibelius, Dukas's work is, like works such as Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks by Strauss, descriptively programmatic, closely following the events described in the Goethe poem. It was customary, in fact, to publish the poem as part of the orchestral score.
The instrumentation of the piece consists of two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two soprano clarinets and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contrabassoon (or contrabass sarrusophone), four horns, two trumpets (in C), two cornets, three trombones, timpani, glockenspiel, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp and strings. The formidable glockenspiel part is sometimes handled by a pianist playing a keyboard glockenspiel or celesta, but is usually played by a percussionist on a traditional glockenspiel making it a common orchestral excerpt for percussion auditions. Dukas also made a transcription for two pianos of this orchestral piece.
Although The Sorcerer's Apprentice was already a popular concert piece, it was brought to a much larger 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.
Stokowski's version for the soundtrack of Fantasia remains one of the most famous. 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.
In terms of the storyline of the film, the sorcerer's final anger with his apprentice which appears in Fantasia does not appear in Goethe's source poem, Der Zauberlehrling. The popularity of the musical piece in Fantasia led to it being used again in Fantasia 2000.
Other screen versions
A decade prior to Fantasia, in 1930 William Cameron Menzies directed and Joseph M. Schenck produced a series of four short films of classical music. One of the four, based on the Dukas music, was titled The Wizard's Apprentice; this short film has been released on DVD and shown on Classic Arts Showcase. In 1931, the Dukas piece was used in Study No. 8 by Oskar Fischinger.
The Dukas piece and Goethe poem were also, by way of the film Fantasia, the inspiration of the 2010 Disney movie, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, starring Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel.