L'Histoire du soldat by Igor Stravinsky and Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz was created during WWI while Stravinsky was living in Switzerland. Unfortunately it's premiere coincided with the flu epidemic. The combination of the war and the flu prevented it from being heard very much.
We heard it in a faculty performance at California State University, Sacramento on Thursday evening. It was originally written in French for performance in the French section of Switzerland, but has since been translated into English.
Our instrumental ensemble consisted of faculty members:
Anna Presler, violin
Chris Castro, bass
Sandra McPherson, clarinets
David Wells, bassoon
Steve Roach, trumpet
Phil Tulga, trombone
Daniel Kennedy, percussion
Omari Tau, speaker, who magically changed his voice to represent the soldier, the devil and the narrator. I believe it was conceived for three actors. In our performance there was a single speaker. Sometimes it is performed with ballet, but we did not experience that.
Stravinsky lived in the time of jazz which he only knew from transcriptions. In the sections below everything sounded like Stravinsky and not jazz, with the small exception of the section called Ragtime.
The soldier's march
Airs by a stream
The little concert
Three dances: a, Tango - b, Waltz - c, Ragtime
The devil's dance
The little chorale
The devil's song
The great chorale
The devil's triumphant march
There is a plot. The soldier is going awol. He carries a fiddle which the devil offers to trade him for a book on how to get rich. So this is a Faust story. Soldier teaches devil how to play the fiddle, devil teaches soldier how to interpret the book. After two days they part.
The soldier gets rich but is unhappy. He plays cards with the devil to reverse the trade if he loses. He does and gets back his fiddle and loses all his money. He meets and marries a princess. The devil tells the soldier that they must remain in the princess's castle, but you know that doesn't happen. The devil wins and celebrates. So in this Faust story the devil wins.
I like this and wish sometime to experience it with the ballet.