Taking you back to 1918 today. Still in the grips of World War 1, slowly coming towards an end, Igor Stravinsky composes a work to be “read, played and danced” which looks at a common theme of the romantic age of the Faustian story, influenced by the events of the day. L’Historie du soldat or A Soldier’s Tale, premiered on this day in Lausanne on the 28th September, 1918.
Due to the effects of many musicians being conscripted for the war efforts, Stravinsky kept the ensemble small. A septet of players, most of which have to be able to cope with the virtuosic and challenging writing that Stravinsky puts in front of them. The violin arguably has the most difficult part, not only playing its part in the ensemble, but also representing the soldier’s violin.
The story is based on the Faust-ian story. A soldier, returning home for two weeks leave, meets an old man who offers him a book that fortells market trends in return for his violin. The old man of course turns out to be Satan, and tricks him into spending 3 days teaching him how to play the violin, and in return treats him like a king and teaches the soldier how to use the book. Upon his return, after seeing that no-one recognises him, realises that he has been tricked and instead has been gone for 3 years. From then, the story looks at the perils of untold wealth.
Once again, I am constantly surprised as the wealth of material available on Youtube. Today I have found a fantastic performance of L’Histoire du soldat by the La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest. It opens with about 10-15 minutes of interviews with the Summerfest music director, the conductor and choreographer, before heading into the performance with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, John Rubenstein narrating, and Leila Josefowitz on violin. It’s partially choreographed by John Malashock. This is an outstanding production, and well worth the hour of your day to watch it.
Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Comments about this performance, or others that you have seen are greatly appreciated – or links back will be shown some link love below.