A man makes a deal with the devil and, for a time, thinks he has won.
No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.
—L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale)
It’s a Faustian tale – the story of a soldier who, upon returning home on leave, meets the devil in disguise as an old man. The devil convinces the soldier to trade his fiddle for a magic book that will make him wealthy.
When the soldier later realizes his riches haven’t made him happy, he gets the devil drunk and steals the fiddle back. He plays his fiddle for a sick princess to cure her, and they marry.
Although he has been warned not to leave the castle, his princess coaxes him to return home to see his mother. And when he crosses the town line, he is immediately captured by the devil.
Premiered in 1918, Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) is a mixed-media piece that uses speech, mime and dance, accompanied by a seven-piece band. It incorporates ragtime, tango and other modern musical idioms in a series of instrumental movements, highlighted by a narrator and two actors.
The Westerville Symphony is commemorating the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s seminal modern chamber work with three free performances in Columbus this weekend. The concerts are a collaboration between the Westerville Symphony, Columbus College of Art & Design, BalletMet, Otterbein University and Classical 101.
Popular Classical 101 hosts Christopher Purdy and Jennifer Hambrick will be performing as the soldier and the devil, along with Steven Anderson of CATCO as the narrator. Peter Stafford Wilson, music director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, conducts.
Back to Stravinsky: The year was 1918. The composer was effectively stranded in Switzerland after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and the Revolution of 1917 had dashed any hopes he had of returning to his native Russia.
Although Stravinsky’s earlier successes with the Ballets Russes had allowed him to relocate from St. Petersburg to Paris, the war had now disrupted the company’s activities in Western Europe and, along with it, Stravinsky’s main artistic outlet – and source of income.
Stravinsky was already moving away from the lush orchestration of his earlier “Russian” works, like The Firebird. But, in addition to the artistic considerations of his leaner, evolving modernist style, there were also practical considerations: Stravinsky needed a theatrical vehicle that could be mounted and toured economically, with more modest resources.
Though the tour of L’Histoire du Soldat was not financially successful (the 1918 flu pandemic caused the cancellation of most of the bookings), the piece has since emerged as one of the most important early chamber works of the modernist movement.