Latest update: March 12th, 2015
Displayed here is an original musical quote of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, written and signed by its Jewish composer, Paul Abraham Dukas.
In an encyclopedic history of the Golem going back to early rabbinic commentaries, the historian Gershom Scholem cites a report that German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who learned about the Golem in a visit to the Prague Jewish ghetto, based his cautionary tale Der Zauberlehrling on the story of the Golem of Prague. Dukas, who was thoroughly educated in Jewish religion and lore and surely knew the Golem story, based his famous symphonic poem L’apprenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) – which was subtitled Scherzo after a Ballad by Goethe – upon the Goethe narrative.
The similarities between Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the Golem of Prague are stark and unmistakable, and the theme of both stories involves the adverse repercussions arising out of the uncontrolled unleashing of magical power. With virtuous intentions, the Apprentice brings a broomstick to life and the Maharal brings life to a clump of clay to protect the Jews of Prague, but both creations ultimately run amok. The Apprentice charges the broomstick with the chore of fetching water for his bath and, in a lesser-known episode in the life of the Golem of Prague, the Golem was ordered to fetch water but never told to stop; in both instances the result is a horrendous flood. The Apprentice uses an ax to split the broomstick in two, ultimately leading to a frightening procession of hundreds of brooms bringing water from the well. At last, the Apprentice cries out for assistance, as do the Jews of Prague, and the Sorcerer himself restores the peace, as does the Maharal.
Dukas’s Apprentice, first published in 1897, was already quite well known and popular when it achieved immortality through its inclusion in Walt Disney’s animated film “Fantasia” (1940), in which Mickey Mouse famously plays the Apprentice. Der Zauberlehrling, which remains extremely popular in the German-speaking world, is often cited to describe a situation where a person summons help or uses allies that he cannot control, especially in politics.
Paul Abraham Dukas (1865-1935), unusually gifted in orchestration and recognized as one of the most sensitive and insightful critics of the era, is particularly noted for his rhythmic mastery and vivid orchestration. Although he wrote a fair amount of music, he was a perfectionist who destroyed many of his pieces out of dissatisfaction with them. As a result, only a few of his compositions remain. His first surviving work of note is the energetic Symphony in C (1896), and he wrote two complex and technically demanding large-scale piano works, a Sonata in E-flat minor (1901) and Variations, Interlude and Finale on a Theme of Rameau (1902). Other works include the opera Ariadne and Bluebeard and the oriental ballet La Péri (1912), his final major work. In the last decades of his life, he became well known as a teacher of composition with many famous students.
About the Author: Saul Jay Singer, a nationally recognized legal ethicist, serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar. He is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters, and his column appears in The Jewish Press every other week. Mr. Singer welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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