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Paul Dukas ( 1865 - 1935 )

Paul Dukas was born in 1865 into a French-Jewish family. He studied at the Conservatoire de Paris with Théodore Dubois and Ernest Guiraud, where he became close friends with Claude Debussy. After completing his studies, he worked as a music critic and orchestrator, being unusually talented and succesful in both fields.

Dukas wrote a fair amount of music, but being perfectionistic and intensely self-critical, he destroyed many of his works, so that only a few of his compositions remain. His first surviving work of note is the vigorous Symphony in C (1896), which is rooted in the tradition of Beethoven and Franck. The symphony was followed by another orchestral work, L'apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) (1897), which is based on Goethe's poem "Der Zauberlehrling". The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a masterpiece, combining catchy tunes with rhythmic zest and vivid orchestration. It has become Dukas' most popular work, in no small part thanks to it being used in the Walt Disney film 'Fantasia'. Only two other major works are regularly performed. The opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (1899-1907) is, like Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande to which it is often compared, based on a libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck. The opulent oriental ballet La Péri (1912) was Dukas's last major work.

The few pieces Dukas wrote for the piano are higly significant. His sonata Sonata in E-flat minor (1901) is a work of imposing dimensions and breadth, combining the spirit of late Beethoven with a Franckian keyboard technique. The sonata has, perhaps on account of its vast dimensions and enormous technical and intellectual demands, never been a mainstream repertoire piece. The other important piano work is the Variations, interlude and finale on a theme of Rameau (1902). 

In the last decades of his life, Dukas was more known as a teacher of composition than as a composer. His many famous students include Joaquín Rodrigo, Maurice Duruflé, Olivier Messiaen and Jehan Alain. He died in 1935 and was interred, alongside numerous other composers, in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.


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