The Sorcerer’s Apprentice By Goethe

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice By Goethe

Translation By Edwin Zeydel, 1955


That old sorcerer has vanished
And for once has gone away!
Spirits called by him, now banished,
My commands shall soon obey.
Every step and saying
That he used, I know,
And with sprites obeying
My arts I will show.

Flow, flow onward
Stretches many
Spare not any
Water rushing,
Ever streaming fully downward
Toward the pool in current gushing.

Come, old broomstick, you are needed,
Take these rags and wrap them round you!
Long my orders you have heeded,
By my wishes now I’ve bound you.
Have two legs and stand,
And a head for you.
Run, and in your hand
Hold a bucket too.

Flow, flow onward
Stretches many,
Spare not any
Water rushing,
Ever streaming fully downward
Toward the pool in current gushing.

See him, toward the shore he’s racing
There, he’s at the stream already,
Back like lightning he is chasing,
Pouring water fast and steady.
Once again he hastens!
How the water spills,
How the water basins
Brimming full he fills!

Stop now, hear me!
Ample measure
Of your treasure
We have gotten!
Ah, I see it, dear me, dear me.
Master’s word I have forgotten!

Ah, the word with which the master
Makes the broom a broom once more!
Ah, he runs and fetches faster!
Be a broomstick as before!
Ever new the torrents
That by him are fed,
Ah, a hundred currents
Pour upon my head!

No, no longer
Can I please him,
I will seize him!
That is spiteful!
My misgivings grow the stronger.
What a mien, his eyes how frightful!

Brood of hell, you’re not a mortal!
Shall the entire house go under?
Over threshold over portal
Streams of water rush and thunder.
Broom accurst and mean,
Who will have his will,
Stick that you have been,
Once again stand still!

Can I never, Broom, appease you?
I will seize you,
Hold and whack you,
And your ancient wood
I’ll sever,
With a whetted axe I’ll crack you.

He returns, more water dragging!
Now I’ll throw myself upon you!
Soon, O goblin, you’ll be sagging.
Crash! The sharp axe has undone you.
What a good blow, truly!
There, he’s split, I see.
Hope now rises newly,
And my breathing’s free.

Woe betide me!
Both halves scurry
In a hurry,
Rise like towers
There beside me.
Help me, help, eternal powers!

Off they run, till wet and wetter
Hall and steps immersed are Iying.
What a flood that naught can fetter!
Lord and master, hear me crying! –
Ah, he comes excited.
Sir, my need is sore.
Spirits that I’ve cited
My commands ignore.

“To the lonely
Corner, broom!
Hear your doom.
As a spirit
When he wills, your master only
Calls you, then ’tis time to hear it.”

(The Sorcerer’s Apprentice By Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – Translation By Edwin Zeydel, 1955)



Born:  1865
Died:  1935
Composed: 1897
Duration: About 11 mins

Program Notes:

Near the end of his life, the composer Paul Dukas burned all but a very small portion of his life’s work. If he were alive today, he may have wished that he left more music around, because his reputation rests on one piece. Here in America, were it not for Mickey Mouse and Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia, contemporary American audiences might know nothing of Paul Dukas.

Paul Dukas’ father was a banker and his mother was an accomplished pianist who died when he was only five. Although he played the piano as a child, Paul didn’t show any real aptitude toward music until he turned fourteen. When he was sixteen, he enrolled at the Paris Conservatory, where he befriended the slightly older Claude Debussy. Even though Paul did well as a student, he dropped out. He was frustrated that he couldn’t win any of those prizes, like the coveted Prix de Rome, that helped establish so many composers. After a short stint in the military, he started a career as a music critic and composed. He wrote an overture in 1892, Polyeucte, that received some acclaim, as did his Symphony in C, which he wrote four years later. However, it was in 1897, when he wrote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, that the world suddenly acknowledged Paul Dukas. Later, he wrote an opera based on the story of Bluebeard that is still admired in France. Dukas set such high standards for himself that he rarely released any of his music. Today, musicians rarely perform any of the music that he wrote in the latter half of his life.

Dukas based The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on a poem that Goethe wrote one hundred years earlier, called Der Zauberlehrling. The poem tells of a sorcerer who can turn a broomstick into a real servant. The sorcerer’s apprentice overhears the magic formula and, one day when the old man is gone, tries it out. Sure enough, the broomstick does his bidding and starts bringing water from the nearby river to fill his bath. There is a problem. The apprentice does not know how to turn the magic off. As the water in the house begins to rise, the boy desperately axes the broom into pieces. Now, to his horror, each piece of the broom is bringing in the water. In the midst of the chaos, the sorcerer returns home. “Sir, my need is sore,” the apprentice cries. “Spirits that I’ve cited/My commands ignore.” The sorcerer says the magic word and restores order.

Dukas’ masterful music follows the narrative of the poem. In the introduction, soft strings suggest a magical and watery atmosphere while the clarinet, oboe, and flute intone what will become the theme of the unstoppable broom. A sudden quickening of the tempo portrays the disobedient apprentice, while the snarling muted brass intone the magic spell. After a sudden and eerie silence, the story begins again in earnest with the bassoons playing the broom theme. Soon enough, the music become chaotic; perhaps you will be able to imagine the pleadings of the beleaguered apprentice amidst the rising waters. After a full-throated statement of the “spell” theme from the brass and a lull in the action—the apprentice has cut the broom into pieces—the contrabassoon begins the melee again. This time the orchestra gets even more frantic. At the peak of the action, the brass once again powerfully state the “spell” theme. The master has returned and restores order. All is quiet until a final orchestral outburst signals the end of the story.
– John P. Varineau