Silence, Echo: A Response to "What the Sorcerer Said" Journal Article uri icon



  • In "What the Sorcerer Said," Carolyn Abbate proposed a reading of Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) focused on the possibility of musical narration. The present essay shifts that focus to the question of the work's uncanniness and excess. In particular, where Abbate finds that the slow part of the epilogue resonates with her understanding of the work as an instance of narration, I begin with the final two measures of the work, which suddenly revert to the fast tempo of the central scherzo. These final measures, which Abbate does not mention, produce a disturbing regression that suggests another reanimation of the broom. This "third beginning" (thus heard in relation to the two preceding moments of animation) marks the broom as an agent of the uncanny (heimlich and unheimlich) in the sense identified by Freud in his essay "Das Unheimliche" (1919). Indeed, Dukas's work as a whole is haunted by motives Freud later identified as uncanny: magic, the omnipotence of thought, animism, and involuntary repetition. The essay works backward from the final noise of the piece into a re-reading founded on musical details such as the representation of the brooms through minor- and major-third dyads, the role of the pitch-class Ab, the structure of the central "reanimation scene," and the dismal interplay of motives associated with the broom and the Apprentice. Close attention is given to Dukas's immediate literary source, Goethe's ballad "Der Zauberlehrling," whose use of assonance and repeating rhymes provides subtle structural cues echoed in Dukas's music; I argue that the relationship between the ballad and Dukas's score is more homologous than Abbate was willing to allow. A number of revisions to Abbate's account also emerge through reference to a descriptive note on The Sorcerer's Apprentice left by Dukas in manuscript (Paris B.N.F. Musique MS 1037). Finally, I suggest that this "symphonic scherzo after Goethe" conflates literary and musical logics into a peculiar kind of fiction that points to the uncanny nature of narrative itself. Dukas's work ultimately engages the issue of mastery by focusing the listener's attention on the failure of authority and the contingency of animation or de-animation. In this Lacanian "overflow" into the unknown, the musical work goes beyond its literary sources, for the broom, not the human figure of the Apprentice, becomes the true protagonist of Dukas's work.

publication date

  • November 1, 2004

Date in CU Experts

  • October 3, 2013 10:21 AM

Full Author List

  • Caballero C

author count

  • 1

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0148-2076

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1533-8606

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 160

end page

  • 182


  • 28


  • 2