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Peregrine Falcon, Torrey Pines

Friday, April 12, 2019

L'histoire Du Soldat



Igor Stravinski wrote this piece with the Swiss poet C. F. Ramuz in 1918. It is an adaptation of an old Russian folk tale of a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil in return a book that can "answer every question" and provide unlimited fortune. As usual in such types of deals, with the fortune comes much misery.

The music is scored for a septet of violindouble bassclarinetbassooncornet (often played on trumpet), trombone, and percussion.

Originally the story was told by three actors: the soldier, the devil, and a narrator, who also takes on the roles of minor characters. A dancer plays the non-speaking role of the princess, and there may also be additional ensemble dancers. 

The conductor Robert Mandell chose to omit the dancers and narrator in this remarkable performance and recording with the Ars Nova Ensemble in 1957. The performers are Stanley Drucker, clarinet; Cyrus Segal, bassoon; David Jandorf, trumpet; James Thompson, trombone; Morris Lang, percussion; Herbert Sorkin, violin; and Reuben Jamitz, double bass. I have had the opportunity to hear the original tape on two of the greatest hi fidelity audio systems I have ever heard, Kip's and Kerry's and it may be the best recording I have ever listened to.

You must not seek to add
To what you have, what you once had;
You have no right to share
What you are with what you were.

No one can have it all,
That is forbidden.
You must learn to choose between.

One happy thing is every happy thing:
Two, is as if they had never been.


Stravinski here, like in some of Wagner's better compositions, creates music beyond time. Pure genius. It might take the world a few hundred more years to catch up. It evokes, amongst other things, the nimbleness and discord of a beebop jazz idiom that would not be created for several decades. 

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