Igor Stravinsky

L'histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale), for 3 actors, dancer & 7 instruments

    Description by Brian Wise

    Prior to embarking on his so-called neo-Classical period in the 1920s, Stravinsky had already pared down his style considerably from the extravagant ballet scores of the early 1910s to the economy and restraint that characterizes L'histoire du soldat (The Soldier's Tale). The forced economy of wartime influenced not only the work's modest resources, but its subject matter. Written in collaboration with the Swiss author C.F. Ramuz and based on a Russian fable about a fiddle-playing soldier (although the text is in French), L'histoire was to be narrated, played and danced, but could also be performed independent of the text as a concert suite. The first performance of L'histoire du soldat took place in Lausanne Switzerland on September 28, 1918.

    Stravinsky and Ramuz based their subject on a collection of Russian tales dealing with the adventures of a soldier who deserts the army and the devil who eventually possesses his soul. The soldier's desertion is somewhat glossed over, but the fiddle he carries in his knapsack and which the Devil wins from him, assumes a symbolic importance that makes the story a kind of miniature version of the Faust legend.

    Despite the scenario's Russian basis, Stravinsky made the music as non-Russian as possible by using North and South American, Spanish, and German material. The score tends to mimic -- and parody -- standard dance styles (ragtime, waltz, and tango) as well as marches and two chorales. The unique chamber instrumentation emphasizes the high and low registers of each family (violin, double-bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, and percussion) that leaves room in the middle registers. The music often abstractly evokes the sound of a New Orleans jazz band, which Stravinsky had recently become acquainted with through scores imported from America by his colleague Ernest Ansermet.

    The score also calls for four dramatis personae: the Soldier and the Devil (both speaking parts), the Princess (who is silent), and a Reader. Moreover, the Princess and the Devil are required to dance. The music is organized as a series of brief tableaux with the action presented mainly through mime and dancing, and continuity supplied by the narrator. The atmosphere of the entire production suggests a cabaret or an informal street entertainment, and it's portability has also been referred to as "pocket theater."

    Stravinsky's harmonic language is modern, pungent and at times bitonal, yet the weight of the interest is on the high level of rhythmic complexity and intricacy. From the opening "Marche du Soldat" to the "Marche Royale," lively, unpredictable rhythms with prickly irregularities are employed in a firmly tongue-and-cheek manner. Asymmetrical phrases are juxtaposed against independent accompanimental ostinati, suggesting the uneven tread of the soldier as he ventures across the countryside.

    Parts/Movements

    1. The soldier's march
    2. Airs by a stream
    3. Pastorale
    4. Royal march
    5. The little concert
    6. Three dances: a, Tango - b, Waltz - c, Ragtime
    7. The devil's dance
    8. The little chorale
    9. The devil's song
    10. The great chorale
    11. The devil's triumphant march

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Linn Records CKD 552
    2016 Naxos 8573537
    2015 Sony Classical 88875026162
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon B002398272
    2013 Avie AVR 2277
    2010 Summit Records 532
    2010 Phil.Harmonie 06005
    2008 Symposium 1372
    2007 Sony Classical Essential Classics 76586
    2006 Arte Nova 378650
    2004 Artemis Classics ATMSC1559
    2003 Pimienta Records / Pimenta Records / Universal Music Latino 360592
    2002 Musica Viva 1049
    2002 Forlane 16580
    1999 Vanguard 124
    1999 Claves 508918
    1999 Naxos 553662
    1998 Vanguard 92
    1997 Valois 4805
    1996 Arts Music 47357
    1996 Arte Nova 37865
    1995 Erato 98955
    1995 Chesky Records 122
    1994 Chandos 9189
    1993 Bayer Records 100207
    1992 Nimbus 5063
    Lys 243
    Calig 50894
    Vanguard 8004
    Blumberg Music Artists
    Camerata Records 28062