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Name of Work

Stravinsky, Igor (1882-1971)
L'Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale) (1991)

Movements:
The Soldier's March
Airs by a Stream
Pastorale
Airs by a Stream-Reprise
The Soldier's March
The Royal March
The Little Concert
Three Dances: Tango
Three Dances: Valse
Three Dances: Ragtime
The Devil's Dance
Little Chorale
The Devil's Song
The Great Chorale
The Triumphal March of the Devil

Performances:


Feb 03, 1991



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Gail Williams, Horn
Patricia Dash, Percussion
Allan Dean, Trumpet
Michael Mulcahy, Trombone
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Deborah Sobol, Piano
Gail Williams, Horn
Patricia Dash, Percussion
Michael Mulcahy, Trombone
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Allan Dean, Trumpet


Feb 04, 1991




STRAVINSKY - "L'Histoire du Soldat" ("The Soldier's Tale")

Composed in 1918

The inspiration for "L'Histoire du Soldat" came from Russian folk tales collected by Alexander Afanasiev, which were turned into a libretto by a friend of Stravinsky's, the poet Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, also living in Switzerland during World War I. Stravinsky recalled that "the thought of composing a dramatic spectacle for a théâtre ambulant"—that is, 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 performances 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. 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." In both parts one and two of the finished music-drama, we'll meet the Devil in several harmless-looking 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 with, to dress the soldier in a uniform temporally remote from, but sympathetic to, the audience."

The Chicago Chamber Musicians will perform "L'Histoire du Soldat" tonight in its original 1918 version: clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, violin, double-bass, percussion, a narrator, two actors, and a dancer. Later versions turned the work into a purely instrumental suite without narration, and a trio for clarinet, violin, and piano.

Part One opens with one of the work's main tunes. The Soldier's March. He is returning home on leave with his one most precious possession, a violin, but he meets an old man (the Devil in disguise, of course) who offers to trade for it a magic book that contains the answers to all questions and secret of vast wealth. Having thus exchanged his soul for gold, the soldier reaches home (after considerable delay) to find that family and friends have forgotten him. When he meets the Devil again (this time appearing as a merchant), he decides to take his original advice and turn the magic book to his advantage; soon he is rich, but money brings him no happiness. He re-encounters the Devil (an old woman) and tries to get the violin back, but he can make no music upon it; in terror, he smashes it, throws away the magic book, and decides to renounce his fortune and seek happiness in a far land.

In Part Two, the soldier has arrived in a country where the king has offered the hand of his daughter in marriage to any man who can cure her of a fatal illness. Before making the attempt, however, the soldier must go through another confrontation with the Devil, and this one is in the form of a card game. By the ingenious method of losing to the Devil deliberately, the soldier is able to reclaim his miraculously repaired violin, leaving his adversary with all the money but none of the power. The soldier plays his violin for the princess, and she is cured. At this point we hear a sequence of three short dances—Tango, Valse, and Ragtime, followed by the fast-paced Devil's Dance; the Devil has demanded the violin back, but he is forced instead to dance to its music until he falls exhausted. The soldier and the Princess, triumphant, are married, but the Devil warns them never to return to the soldier's homeland ("The Devil's Song").

When at length the two do decide to visit the soldier's old home, the Devil returns in triumph; once again he has possession of the violin, and he owns the soldier, body and soul, for eternity. The soldier has lost, evil has triumphed; an unexpected end for a work that began life as fairy tale, but one only too easy to comprehend, given the bitter circumstances of war and destruction in which "L'Histoire du Soldat" was written, which have never really left the world for very long in the decades since.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed February 3, 1991



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