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Paul Dukas.  Photograph. Peter Joslin Collection.

Paul Dukas. Photograph. Peter Joslin Collection.

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DUKAS, Paul Abraham (b.Paris, 1 October 1865; d.Paris, 17 May 1935)


Born 150 years ago this month, Dukas is one of the great French composers of the early twentieth century.  Yet he bequeathed scarcely more than ten works to posterity.  His fastidious craftmanship, high ideals and rigorous self-criticism caused him to withhold a number of substantial pieces and to leave others unfinished.  Virtually the entire production of his last twenty-four years was destroyed by him before his death - including parts at least of a second symphony, an opera on Shakespeare's The Tempest, two ballets and a violin sonata.

The son of a banker, Dukas was a fellow student with Debussy at the Paris Conservatoire, where in 1888 he won first prize in counterpoint and fugue and was runner-up in the Prix de Rome.  After a year's military service he had his first major public success in January 1892, when an overture inspired by Corneille's tragedy Polyeucte was performed at the Lamoureux Concerts.  In the same year he began to earn respect as a discerning critic, writing for the Revue Hébdomadaire and other journals.

1897 saw the premières of two major orchestral pieces, the Symphony in C (Concerts de l'Opéra, 3 January, conducted by Paul Vidal) and the 'symphonic scherzo after Goethe' L'apprenti sorcier (Société Nationale, 18 May, conducted by Dukas).  The latter, the work for which he is best known, was an instant success and has never since been out of the orchestral repertoire.  Two early attempts at operas were abandoned in favour of two important piano works, the Sonata in E flat minor of 1900 and Variations, Interlude et Finale sur un thème de Rameau of 1902.  However in May 1907 the 3-act Ariane et Barbe-bleue, to a text by Maeterlinck, was produced at the Opéra Comique.  This work was immediately recognised as a masterpiece and within the next six years appeared on many international opera stages - among them Milan, Vienna, Frankfurt, Brussels, Madrid and New York.

The ballet La Péri, performed at the Théâtre du Châtelet in April 1912 by a company led by the Russian ballerina Natalia Trouhanova, also received a warm critical reception, but this was the last substantial work which Dukas allowed to be published.

Invited by Fauré in 1910 to take the orchestral class at the Conservatoire, Dukas later taught composition both there and at the Ecole Normale de Musique, his pupils including Messiaen, Duruflé, Alain, Langlais and Yvonne Lefebure.  He was also a meticulous editor - of Rameau for the modern collected edition and of standard repertoire for the publisher Durand.  He was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1906.

We show here all but one of his published works in first or early editions.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Polyeucte Ouverture pour la tragédie de Corneille.  Paris, 1910.  The work was composed in 1891 and first performed in 1892. Symphonie en Ut majeur.  Full Score.  Paris, [c.1910].  The work was originally published only in piano arrangements (4 hands and 2 hands). L'Apprenti Sorcier. Full score. Paris, [1897].

Sonate en mi bémol mineur. Nouvelle edition. Paris, 1906.  The work was first printed in 1900. Variations, Interlude et Finale sur un thème de Rameau.  Nouvelle edition.  Paris, 1907. Villanelle. First edition of the cello arrangement.  Paris, 1909.  The work was first published in 1906.

Ariane et Barbe-Bleue.  Vocal score.  Paris, 1906. Ariane et Barbe-Bleue.  Libretto, published in advance of the first performance.  Brussels, 1907. La Peri.  Poème dansé.  First edition of the 4-hands arrangement.  Paris, 1912.

A. L. Hettich : Répertoire moderne de Vocalises-Études ... 2e. Volume. Paris, [1909]. The collecton contains the first edition of Dukas's Vocalise-Étude ('Alla Gitana'), later published in various instrumental transcriptions.

Fanfare pour précéder La Peri.  Arrangement for piano, 4 hands.  Paris, 1912. La Plainte, au loin, du Faune ....  First separate edition of the piano piece written for the 'Tombeau de Claude Debussy', a supplement to the Revue Musicale.  Paris, December 1920. Sonnet de Ronsard.  Paris, 1924.