L'Histoire du Soldat (1918) composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Three free performances:

September 28 @ 8 pm          Riley Auditorium, Otterbein University (no ticket required, open seating)

September 29 @ 1 pm          The Columbus Museum of Art *

September 30 @ 3 pm          The Short North Stage (no ticket required, open seating)

*  The performance is free with museum admission, but you must reserve a concert ticket in advance.  Reserve CMA Ticket

A "narrative ballet in five scenes, to be read, played, and danced" we are happy to join forces with friends from CATCO, WOSU, CCAD, BalletMet and Otterbein to present L'Histoire du Soldat in its original format with musicians, actors and a dancer.  We also bring the piece forward 100 years by adding an original video component by animation specialist Tyler Newby.

Peter Stafford Wilson                      Conductor

Steven Anderson                            Narrator

Christopher Purdy                           Soldier

Jennifer Hambrick                           Devil

Jessica Brown                                 Dancer

Atilla Bongar                                    Choreographer

Tyler Newby                                     Video Animation

Musicians:  Hild Peersen (clarinet), Kerry Haberkern (bassoon), Dan King (trumpet), Tony Weikel (trombone), Jack Jenny (percussion), Erin Gilliland (violin), Jim Bates (bass)

We are grateful to our sponsors for their support:  The Johnstone Fund for New Music, The Greater Columbus Arts Council, Otterbein University Department of Music, Geoff Fallon and Patricia Harmon, The Springfield Symphony.

The Back Story

During and immediately following World War I, nations were displaced, fortunes were decimated, and, for many, life’s luxuries remained on hold. It must often have seemed in Europe that the only thing not in short supply was Necessity. Notwithstanding his early successes for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (which already included the ballets The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, and Les Noces), Igor Stravinsky was in the same dire straits as everyone else, somehow scraping by in Switzerland. The political conflict had cut off his access to his family’s estate in Russia, and his publisher, Édition Russe de Musique (which, despite its French name and Russian focus, was headquartered in wartorn Berlin), had stopped sending him royalties. Even if there had been a way to get money through, little would have been forthcoming since concert and ballet performances had all but dried up.

Desperate times call for desperate solutions; Necessity proved herself, yet again, to be the Mother of Invention. Several years earlier, the conductor Ernest Ansermet had introduced Stravinsky to Charles F. Ramuz, a Swiss novelist, and the composer and writer quickly found themselves to be compatible as friends and collaborators. Since Ramuz’s royalties weren’t arriving either, the pair devised a scheme to write a stage work that could be produced on the cheap, and which would require only a handful of performers and was “portable” enough to be mounted on tour with minimal effort.

The result was L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), a quirky musicaltheater work for seven instrumentalists plus actor-dancers and narrator that Stravinsky and Ramuz created while hunkered down in the town of Morges in 1918. It received its first performance on September 28 of that year in the Théâtre Municipal de Lausanne — spiffier surroundings than the creators might have dared hope for. Sets and costumes were devised by René Auberjonois, and Ernest Ansermet conducted a group of distinguished instrumentalists while university student actor-dancers did their best in the featured stage parts.

This was a production that came together on a shoestring, and against all odds the performance was a success. Nonetheless, the tour that was to have followed (which had been the rationale of the piece in the first place) never took place. An influenza epidemic erupted, making most of the performers sick, and momentum for the tour never picked up again. In 1920 Diaghilev considered mounting the work as a “proper” ballet, with designs by Picasso (including “sandwich-man” outfits for the dancers). This came to naught, but gradually the work’s reputation began to spread, and it became established as a curious little masterpiece. Whether offered as a miniature ballet or as a simple concert suite with narration, L’Histoire du soldat is strictly sui generis.

Eleven numbers make up the piece; some of these are repeated in the course of the show, and several consist of multiple sections. Together they tell a story amalgamated by Ramuz from an anthology of Russian folktales that had been assembled by Alexander Afanasiev. Ramuz’s librettoscenario is structured in two parts, each comprising three scenes. In the first scene, a Soldier on leave trades his magic fiddle to the Devil, launching a bizarre sequence of enchanted encounters in which he gains wealth and then learns to despise it, wishing only that he had his fiddle back. In the second part, the Soldier does manage to regain his violin, as well as the hand of a princess; however, in the end, he unwisely crosses over into the Devil’s territory once Notes on the Program (continued) more and loses his fiddle again. The music is minutely intertwined with the stage action, carefully matching the dramatic trajectory of the play. Although only two of the eleven musical numbers bear key signatures, Stravinsky’s tonality remains clearly rooted. References to popular musical genres are clear: tango, waltz, ragtime, even the Spanish pasodoble of The Royal March. As befits the slender forces, Stravinsky’s score is taut, pithy, ultracondensed, and more than a little cynical. 

- James M. Keller


Riley Auditorium At Battelle Hall

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