Nicolas Cage has set out to bewitch a new generation of viewers with his new film, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (more), but there is more magic in the background and origins of his story than, unfortunately, there is in the film itself.
To get to Nicolas Cage as the Sorcerer, thanks to a whole lot of computer generated special effects, we have to begin with a German poet, go on to a French composer, and acknowledge the contributions of a legendary American rodent. But, the good news is that we can watch the classic version of this story for free and find online the text and music on which it is based.
These resources just might add some magic to a homeschool class or a class in any school.
Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), generally regarded as the greatest German author, wrote “Der Zauberlehrling“(“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) in 1797. You can read the poem, based on an ancient story, in the original German as well as in English translation here and enjoy in either language (or in both) the story of the upstart apprentice dabbling with powers that he does not understand.
Goethe’s poem appealed to the French composer Paul Abraham Dukas (1865 – 1935), who in 1897 (a century after Goethe’s poem) wrote “L’apprenti sorcier” (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), which he called a “symphonic poem… Scherzo after a ballad by Goethe.” That the works of Paul Dukas are not widely known is no reflection on their quality. He was his own harshest critic, and so, he released only a few of his works. You can listen to his symphonic poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” here.
Paul Dukas was perhaps more important, more influential, as a teacher than as a composer. Two of his most famous students, the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla and the French composer Olivier Messiaen each wrote a musical tribute to him, “Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas” (“Piece for the Tomb of Paul Dukas”). You can listen to de Falla’s composition here and Messiaen’s composition here.
Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse
For his third full-length animated film, in 1940, Walter Elias “Walt” Disney (1901 – 1966) chose to present a series of eight animated representations of pieces of classical music, in the film Fantasia, with the able collaboration of conductor Leopold Stokowski and, for one segment, the legendary rodent Mickey Mouse.
The one segment in collaboration with Mickey Mouse was an adaptation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, for which about a minute of the original composition was cut. So popular was that segment, using the music of Dukas and the story told by Goethe, that when Fantasia/2000 came out, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was the only one of the original eight segments to be reprised.
Your prize: Watch The Sorcer’s Apprentice for Free
Don’t get impatient. You already have a poem in two languages and three pieces of music. But, here it is, the original story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia, which was originally conceived as a separate short film. Leopold Stokowski conducts the music, Mickey Mouse plays the apprentice, and composer and music critic Deems Taylor introduces it, as he introduces each piece in Fantasia.
Will the new Sorcerer’s Apprentice be as successful?
Mickey Mouse’s version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is now seventy years old. Seventy years from now, will Nicolas Cage as the Sorcerer be as fondly remembered? Although Fantasia is now regarded as a classic, it was a financial disaster when it came out. In fact, it did not turn a profit until its 1969 re-release, when it is said that a young audience either took LSD before the show or smoked marijuana while watching it to enhance the stunning visuals (source).
Sources are linked to throughout the article.
You may be interested in my film reviews here or my recent article about (not a review of) The Last Airbender.