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Name of Work

Stravinsky, Igor (1882-1971)
L'Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale) (2007)

Movements:
Little Concert
Three Dances: Tango, Waltz, Ragtime
Triumphal march of the Devil

Performances:


Apr 22, 2007



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Dennis Michel, Bassoon
Charles Geyer, Trumpet
Michael Mulcahy, Trombone
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Michael Kozakis, Percussion


Apr 23, 2007



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Dennis Michel, Bassoon
Charles Geyer, Trumpet
Michael Mulcahy, Trombone
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Michael Kozakis, Percussion

STRAVINSKY-Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat

Composed in 1918

BACKGROUND
The breakup of ancient kingdoms and empires, foreshadowed by the nationalism movement, would be concluded – sometimes peacefully, often violently – in the wake of the two world wars of the 20th century. World War I redrew the map of Europe as one result of five years of appalling death, destruction, and displacement. Among those displaced were noncombatant artists; Igor Stravinsky was among many who took refuge in neutral Switzerland, a setting wherein the full-scale concerts and elaborate productions he'd experienced in Paris were virtually nonexistent. "The shoestring economics of the original L’Histoire production," he wrote in his book Expositions and Developments, "kept me to a handful of instruments, but this confinement did not act as a limitation, as my musical ideas were already directed toward a solo-instrument style." Between the Parisian success of such ballets as The Firebird and the emergence of his 1920s neo-Classical manner, Stravinsky turned away from the style of his youth, which had been influenced by the colorful orchestrations of his former teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, and were intended for very large ensembles. Adopting a more restricted instrumental compass was a personal, artistic decision, but obviously a practical one too.

Stravinsky's oft-quoted remarks about the instrumentation of L’Histoire bear repeating, because the influence he cites was a major one: "My discovery of American jazz. The L’Histoire ensemble resembles the jazz band in that each instrumental category – strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion – is represented by both treble and bass components. The instruments themselves are jazz legitimates, too, except the bassoon, which is my substitute for the saxophone. The percussion part must also be considered as a manifestation of my enthusiasm for jazz."

The literary inspiration for L’Histoire came from Russian folk tales collected by Alexander Afanasiev, which were turned into a libretto by the poet Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. Stravinsky recalled that "the thought of composing a dramatic spectacle for a 'theatre ambulant'" – a traveling show – "had occurred to me more than once since the beginning of the war...small enough in the complement of its players to allow for performance on a circuit of Swiss villages, and simple enough in the outlines of its story to be easily understood. Afanasiev's soldier stories were gathered from peasant recruits to the Russo-Turkish wars [of the 19th century]. The stories are Christian, therefore, and the Devil is the 'diabolus' of Christianity, a person, as always in Russian popular literature, though a person of many disguises.

"My original idea," Stravinsky went on, "was to transpose the period and style of our play to anytime, AND 1918, and to many nationalities, AND none, though without destroying the religio-cultural status of the Devil. Thus, the soldier of the original production was dressed in the uniform of a Swiss Army private of 1918. Producers are encouraged to localize the play and, if they wish, to dress the soldier in a uniform temporally remote from, but sympathetic to, the audience."

A recent full-scale CCM performance of L’Histoire found the soldier wearing the uniform of an American soldier serving in Iraq. Our performance tonight features a selection of dances and one march. The scoring of original play – clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, violin, double bass, and percussion – but is done in concert version, omitting the narrator, dancer, and actors who participate in the stage version.

MUSIC
L’Histoire du Soldat, especially when presented without narration, can be heard as Stravinsky's evocation of an 18th-century suite, combining individual movements in a variety of rhythms. The dances are highly varied, drawing on both the old – the Waltz – and the new, with the inclusion of Tango and Ragtime. These are dovetailed into each other in a way that would probably never occur in a ballroom. Stravinsky's rhythmic ingenuity is ever in evidence. There are a great many syncopated passages, and occasionally two meters are played simultaneously. The jazz influence on the instrumentation is seen via the presence of clarinet, trumpet, trombone, double bass, and drums, but has been suggested that the ensemble reflects Stravinsky's memories of Jewish klezmer bands in his native Russia. In klezmer ensembles a violin is usually prominent, and here the violin is very much the leader of the band. His part represents the soldier and, symbolically, the soldier's soul. The percussion section represents the devil. A lively tune with repeated notes opens the work and is identified as the soldier’s march; this recurs in the movements we’ll be hearing.

The story begins with the soldier returning home on leave and playing upon his most precious possession, his violin. He then meets the devil, who offers him a magic book that reveals the secrets of acquiring wealth. He exchanges his violin for the book, but money does not bring happiness. After another encounter with the devil, he smashes the violin and sets off to seek happiness in a far land, where he learns that the king has offered the hand of his daughter in marriage to the man who can cure her of a fatal illness. The devil is here too, of course, and this time he and the soldier play a card game, which the soldier deliberately loses in order to get rid of his money and reclaim his soul – which he does, in the shape of the miraculously repaired violin. He has left the devil with all the money but with no more power over him. This brings us to the "Little Concert," with the soldier calling upon music to cure the princess. The violin and clarinet re-introduce the theme of “The Soldier's March,” with bassoon, trombone, and double bass adding evanescent motives as commentary. The repeated patterns in the violin part seem to suggest that the soldier is dancing for his sweetheart as well as playing music for her. “The Three Dances,” played without pause, continue the curative process. The tango, presented by the violin with help from the percussion, is a seductive yet lively melody inspired by the famously sensuous South American dance. The violin sings yearningly in its low register. The sudden switch to its higher register signals the start of the brief waltz, decidedly non-Viennese, elaborated with clarinet motives. Then the pace picks up with the violin using its entire range to perform an exuberant rag, aided by trumpet and trombone.

It has been said, "You can lock the devil up, but you can't keep him long." His power has been negated, for now, by the soldier's ingenuity and the love he shares with the princess. But when, some years after their marriage, they decide to visit the soldier's homeland, which they've been warned not to do, the devil has power over the soldier once again. He has regained the violin and owns the soldier, body and soul, for eternity. In “Triumphal March of the Devil,” the brass instruments bring back the soldier's march theme embroidered by scurrying, almost frenetic figures on the violin. Gradually one player after another drops out, and after we lose the voice of the violin, the percussion plays alone to conclude the drama and emphasize the final demonic victory.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: April 22 & 23, 2007



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