Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Igor Stravinsky (1882 Ė 1972)

LíHistoire du Soldat: Concert Suite (1919), for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano

LíHistoire du Soldat (The Soldierís Tale) was composed by Stravinsky in collaboration with the Swiss novelist C.F.Ramuz in 1917-18 while "down and out" in Switzerland. The Great War in Europe and the Revolution in Russia cut Stravinsky off from his family estates and publishers royalties. Serge Diaghilevís Ballet Russe, for which Stravinsky had composed The Firebird, Petroushka and The Rite of Spring, was similarly stranded in Lisbon without future engagements. Stravinsky, Ramuz and conductor Ernest Ansermet decided to form a "pocket theater" company which would produce pieces requiring just a few players and be easily portable, enabling them to travel a circuit of Swiss villages. Thus was born LíHistoire du Soldat "to be read, played and danced". Though scored for only 3 actors, a female dancer and 7 instruments, even this low-budget operation was beyond Stravinskyís means to produce. Financier and amateur clarinetist Werner Reinhardt generously bankrolled the production; " he paid for everybody and everything" recounted the composer. In appreciation for Reinhardtís generosity, Stravinsky gave him the manuscript of LíHistoire du Soldat as well as composing for him the Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo, and the Lí Histoire du Soldat Concert Suite in the trio arrangement.

The first performance of Lí Histoire du Soldat was a success. Opening night was also closing night. Due to the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza epidemic (which would kill almost 20 million people in Europe and 500 thousand in America) every public hall was closed by law. The work was not performed again until 1924.

Lí Histoire du Soldat is a variant of the Faust Legend Ė a poor soldier sells his soul (represented by his violin) to the Devil for youth, wealth, and power. Stravinsky would turn to this theme again some 30 years later in his opera The Rakeís Progress; joining Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Gounod, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Busoni, and others who were also inspired by the Faust legend. The Germanic tradition through Goethe has Faust redeemed at the end. In keeping with the French tradition, Stravinsky and Ramuz send him to Hell.

The influence of Jazz is discernable in LíHistoire du Soldat. Stravinsky describes this influence in the book Expositions and Developments co-authored by Robert Kraft as " a wholly new sound in my music, and LíHistoire marks my final break with the Russian Orchestral School."

I dare say Stravinskyís Ragtime would have made Scott Joplin uneasy.

1999-2000 Season, Program III, Sunday February 6, 2000

Back to "Program Notes by Joseph Way"

Back to Richard's Home Page


All original text on this page copyright 2000 by Joseph Way