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Paul (Abraham) Dukas

French Born 01 Oct 1865 Died 17 May 1935

Paul Dukas turned to composition at the age of 13 as a way out of the grind of piano practice.  Discovering a natural aptitude, he attended the Paris Conservatoire at age 16 and was entered for the Prix de Rome repeatedly.   After failing to win the prestigious award, he took military service, after which he went back to composition.  His first major work was the Wagnerian overture Polyeucte , which also displayed the influence of his idol César Franck.  Following parallel careers as critic, orchestrator and editor of works of composers such as Jean-Philippe Rameau left Dukas little time for composition, but he completed a Symphony in C in 1897, the same year as his most famous piece.

L'Apprenti Sorcier (The Sorceror's Apprentice) was subtitled "...a symphonic scherzo after a ballad of Goethe", but the macabre jollity of the piece brings to mind none of the Teutonic gravitas one associates with the author of Faust.  A great influence upon Stravinsky and Debussy, it is now widely known for its use in the Disney film Fantasia, and forms the crux of Dukas' reputation.

As Dukas aged, he became more exacting of his efforts.  It took the best efforts of his friends to persuade him not to destroy certain works of his, and for long stretches he wrote virtually nothing.  However, that which remains is of undeniable quality, using novel harmonies and modes such as the whole-tone scale.  A liking for intellectual constructs blended with characteristically French lightness of touch influenced many other composers in the early part of the 20th century.

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