Stravinsky: The Soldier's Tale - Glyndebourne / Pritchard - HMV 1955 ..... SRO / Ansermet - Decca 1956

Igor Stravinsky:  "The Soldier's Tale"  
Libretto by C.F.Ramuz. English translation by Michael Flanders & Kitty Black.  
As performed 1954 at the Glyndebourne/Edinburgh Festival production.
Robert Helpmann (The Devil) - Terence Longdon (The Soldier) - Anthony Nicholls (The Narrator)  
Artur Leavins, violin - Edmond Chesterman, double-bass - Jack Brymer, clarinet - Gwydion Brooke, bassoon - Richard Walton, cornet -
Sidney Langston, trombone - Stephen Whittaker, timpani.
Conducted by  John Pritchard
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HMV  HQM 1008  Original 1956 matrices: 2XEA 822 -1N / 2XEA 823 -1N. Reissued 1965 from HMV ALP 1377.  
Recorded: April/May 1955 - EMI Studio 3, Abbey Rd.

Igor Stravinsky:  "Le Histoire du Soldat" - Concert Suite:     
The Soldier's March ~ Music to Scene 1 ~ Music to Scene 2 ~ The Royal March ~ The Little Concert ~
Three Dances (Tango, Waltz, Ragtime) ~ The Devil's Dance ~ Great Choral ~ Triumphal March of the Devil   
Michel Schwalbe, violin -  Hans Fryba,  double-bass -  Leon Hoogstoel, clarinet -  Henri Helaerts,  bassoon - 
Poalo Longinotti, trumpet -  Pierre Aubapan,  trombone -  Charles Peschier, percussion.
Conducted by  Ernest Ansermet   
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Decca  LXT 5321   Matrix (c.1962): ARL 3488 -5Ar.   Recorded: October 1956, Victoria Hall, Geneva.
HQM / LXT sleeve-notes (text) >>> 

HQM 1008 sleevenote:
SOLDIER'S TALE was a child of necessity, born out of enforced economy at a time of moral, physical and financial bankruptcy. In 1918 Stravinsky was living in Switzerland. The Great War was almost at an end, but a virulent 'grippe espagnole' had brought musical and theatrical enterprise to a standstill, even in Switzerland, and the lavish resources of pre-war, Diaghilev days were no longer available to the emigre Russian composer. His Swiss friends, the writer Ramuz and who also suffered from the restrictions of the time, were eager to collaborate with him in an artistic project which might prove of aadvantage to them all. Thus, the idea of a diminutive travelling theatre took shape: Ramuz would supply texts, and Stravinsky music which, in to the opulent scores of more affluent days (Firebird, Petroushka, Rite of Spring) would be composed for a minimum number of instrumentalists.

At the time Stravinsky was absorbed in Afanassiov's famous collection of Russian folk-tales. Ramuz shared his enthusiasm for these, and so the choice of a suitable subject was narrowed down to the cycle of legends dealing with the Soldier who forfeits his soul to the Devil.

Practical considerations dictated the form of the work, which was "to be read, played and danced". Stravinsky enumerates these in his Autobiography, and explains how he planned that the three elements of the piece -music, acting or dancing, and narration- would, by their close co-operation form a unity. In the centre of the platform was a little stage for the actors (speaking parts for the Soldier and the Devil, who also dances, and the danced role of the Princess). On one side of the stage, the music: on the other, the narrator at his desk. The music was for seven players: violin, double-bass, clarinet, bassoon, trombone and percussion ('a selection which would include the representative types, in treble and bass, of the instrumental families').

The first performance of L'Histoire du Soldat was given at Lausanne on September 28th, 1918, when the ensemble was conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

To the accompaniment of the Soldier's March, the Narrator introduces Joseph, the soldier who is returning home on leave. He rests by the bank of a stream, pulls an old violin out of his kit-bag, and begins to play. The sound attracts the Devil (in the guise of a little old man carrying a  butterfly net). In the ensuing dialogue the Devil barters a book, whict he has been carrying under his arm, for the Soldier's violin. The book  future events, but the Devil, who has tried in vain to play the fiddle, persuades Joseph to go home with him and teach him how to play it. We hear from the Narrator how Joseph fares with the Devil, and how, after the one has explained the violin and the other the book, the Devil returns Joseph to the spot where he found him, and the Soldier's March is heard once more. The Narrator continues the tale, in which it becomes clear that the Devil has kept Joseph not three days but three years. A desolate Pastorale depicts Joseph's dejection outside his native village where he was given up for dead, and his friends and dear ones shunned him as a ghost. But the Devil is waiting for him again, this time disguised as a cattle-merchant. Joseph recognises him, and is about to attack him when, with a call to order, the Devil reminds him of the book and its powers. Once again the Narrator takes up the story, and tells how wealth does not bring Joseph happiness. As a background to his reverie of happier times, we bear the music associated with his old violin. And when the curtain rises, we see the Soldier sitting at his desk thumbing the Book. The Devil, dressed as an old-clothes woman, comes in and picks up the book, which Joseph, in his desperation, has flung to the ground. Joseph will have none of the old woman's wares but rises to the bait of his old violin. He tries to play it, but it remains silent. In the background the music of the violin mocks him. Joseph hurls the instrument down, and tears the book into a thousand pieces.

SIDE TWO (Start @ 24 minutes in the new file)
The Soldier's March is heard again, and the Narrator tells how the Soldier crosses the frontier into another land, where the King's daughter lies ill. He who can cure her shall wed her. And with Joseph's determination to try, a Royal March leads to a glimpse of a room in the palace where the Devil now appears in the role of a violin virtuoso. In the following scene, the Soldier plays the Devil at cards, and, on the direct advice of the Narrator, plays to lose. Once he is free of his load of wealth, he finds that he can again play the violin which he has seized from the morally vanquished Devil. His music arouses the Princess, restoring her to health. During a sequence of dances -Tango, Wall
tz and Ragtime- the Devil appears in his true colours, but the Soldier plays his violin, and the Devil is obliged to dance until he falls, exhausted. A "Little Choral" celebrates the lovers' bliss, and the Devil swears his revenge in a short song. Then a "Great Choral' intersperses some words of wisdom from the Narrator and the sad end of this cautionary tale. Joseph and his Princess decide to visit Joseph's mother, but at the frontier, the Devil, who now has the violin, awaits him, and gets his prey to the music of a triumphal march.



LXT 5321 sleevenote:

Like Le Roi David Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale was, in a sense, a product of adversity. The latter months of 1917 found the composer in very straitened circumstances. Throughout the war he had made Switzerland his home, and had relied on the slow but fairly steady transfer of some of his resources from his native Russia. But now the Revolution had cut him off from these resources and he was stranded in a country surrourded by warring nations. It was in these circumstances that he discussed with his friends C. F. Ramuz and Ernest Ansermet the possibility of creating a miniature travelling theatre. They had no funds, but after much enquiry, they were fortunate enough to find a highly enlightened patron in Werner Reinhart (who was an amateur clarinettist, and subsequently the dedicatee of Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Clarinet). Stravinsky drew Ramuz's attention to Afanassiov's collection of Russian folk-tales, and together they decided to draw upon the quasi-Faustian legends of the Soldier and the Devil. Financial resources being what they were, Stravinsky realised that he could only employ a very small ensemble. After considering, and rejecting, the idea of having a piano as the accompanying instrument, Stravinsky resolved upon an ensemble that (in his own words) "would include the most representative types, in treble and bass, of the instrumental families". The work was to be staged as follows: to one side, in full view of the audience, the instrumentalists and the conductor; in the centre, the stage, and the actors (mime and dance); and on the other side, the narrator. The performance brings about a most ingenious inter-play between these three elements - at one crucial point, the narrator even "advises" the Soldier on the action he should take. But for all the outward gaiety of some of the music, one realises at the close the full significance of Stravinsky's own comment on the work: "It was the essentially human aspect of the tragic story of the Soldier destined to become a prey of the Devil that attracted Ramuz and myself".

The first performance took place at Lausanne on September 28, 1918. The decor was by Rene Auberjonois, and three of the cast were Lausanne University students. The conductor was Ernest Ansermet, of whose part in the production Stravinsky has written in the most glowing terms.

The present suite was made by the composer and was first performed in 1923. It includes most of the score, omitting repeats and one or two unimportant items. The Soldier's March (1) acts as a kind of overture. Thematically, it relies on the contrast between melodies proceeding in conjunct motion and ornamental figures founded on the arpeggios of alternating common chords (the latter are a development of Petrushka's fanfares). The desperate tone of the March's climax -which expresses the feelings of the Soldier as he trudges along under his heavy load -is achieved by transferring the conjunct motion from the diatonic to the chromatic scale.

In the Music to Scene 1 (2), the Soldier is heard playing his violin. (Throughout the work, the violin has a concertante role in the ensemble. Motifs from the Soldier's "rustic" tune also occur throughout, in various forms.) During the middle section of this ternary piece, the Devil enters, disguised as an old man. Something of his wiliness is suggested by the violin's parallel sixths in false relation. Towards the end of the piece, the Devil approaches the Soldier, who jumps up in alarm. The Devil exchanges the fiddle for a magic book, and invites the Soldier to stay with him for three days. When the Soldier returns, he finds that he has been away not three days, but three years. His fellow-villagers spurn him as a deserter, and even his own mother refuses to recognise him. His state of mind is depicted in the intensely poignant Music to Scene 2 (3)-a continual flow of expressive melodic shapes which, with the cornet solo at mid-point, heightens subjective emotion to the point of sublimity. The Devil reappears in a new disguise, and tells the Soldier that with the aid of the magic book he can foretell the future and win himself great riches. The Soldier finds this to be true, but later he renounces his new-won wealth, tears up the book, and sets out once more. He comes to a town where he learns that the King's daughter is ill, and that her hand has been promised to whoever can cure her. Resolving to try his luck, the Soldier enters the palace to the jovial strains of The Royal March (4). He encounters the Devil once again, plays a game of cards with him, and then plies him with drink until, he falls unconscious. Then follows The Little Concert (5), an ingenius and diverting quodlibet that re-unites almost all thethematic material that has been heard so far.

The Soldier now goes to the Princess's room, and begins to play a Tango on the fiddle which he has recovered from the Devil. A striking change of harmony and texture re-introduces a tender theme from The Little Concert, as the Princess begins to dance. She is cured. The Tango, Waltz and Ragtime (6) thus form a kind of solo-dance divertissement. Musically, they are dovetailed with extraordinary skill.

The Devil returns once more, but the Soldier plays his fiddle, and forces him to dance (7) until he collapses exhausted. The Princess and the Soldier drag the Devil off-stage, and then fall into each other's arms. Rather than seeking to express their happiness in romantic terms, Stravinsky celebrates it, or ritualises it, in a Great Choral (8) whose hieratic dignity does not disguise its profoundly human compassion.In its expressiveness, this choral balances the Music to Scene 2, but whereas the spare textures of that music were instinct with the spirit of loneliness, the warm, vibrant harmony of the Great Choral speaks of the unity and contentment of two beings. This happiness proves to be transient. The Soldier persuades his beloved to come with him to his native village, but as soon as he steps across the frontier, the Devil seizes him and carries him off in triumph, leaving the griefstricken Princess calling for her beloved. Like the "lonely" music of Scene 2, and certain other related passages, the Triumphal March of the Devil (9) depends, harmonically, on the continual oscillation, at varying rhythmic intervals, of two notes a whole-tone apart. These notes, as implacable as the Devil himself, determine the harmony of the violin part. The violin, and with it the Soldier's soul, has become the Devil's property, whilst the percussion becomes the representative of inexorable fate, continuing after the last despairing human cry of the wind instruments and the final cadence of the Devil's violin. Properly speaking, the work has no end. The final percussion solo expresses the sense of ad infinitum in a way that harmony -with its inevitably finite associations- could never do.



  1. Stunning sound. I listened last nite with great interest. That Roi David looks tempting too.

  2. Only have 1LP of the two LP set! (it was reissued as stereo in another coupling). Just realised Ive two King Davids..the 1962 stereo Baudo/Paris Opera on Concert Hall (4LP sides -vastly expensive as an OOP CD) + Abravanel on 1971 RCA-UK mastered Vanguard.. The Pritchard was transferred with a non-standard set-up giving a near In-The-Studio experience..

  3. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  4. Merci pour cette Suite de l'histoire du Soldat admirablement jouée par Ansermet et ses solistes romands ! Et quelle merveilleuse prise de son et quel beau report !
    Bravo et merci !

  5. Mon plaisir. Je pourrais ajouter la version stereo (sur Deccca SDD 247 - en 1970).

  6. Thanks - I have always liked "L'histoire". One of my favorites is the Suite by John Carewe on Everest, backed by Milhaud's "Creation."

    It looks like I'm going to be working my way through your site. Glad I got a new hard drive.....

  7. When I look at the site myself I don't get the impression that much has been posted over a 2year period (but quite a few files from 2009 have succumbed to deletion/hard-drive failure/s).
    The mono Ansermet is much better-sounding than the stereo I have on a 1970 'Ace of Diamonds' (but you can hear a loss in recording quality in the last section: presumably recorded separately).
    The Pritchard is a 'special' dub: very highly detailed - but a bit bright/some surface noise (which is from those original matrices).
    I have a 1972 Nash Ensemble version of the Suite (edited-out one section to enable the mainly Eartha Kitt concert to fit onto an 80min MD.
    (I uploaded the details to: http://castalbums.org/recordings/Eartha_Kitt_at_the_Queen_Elizabeth_Hall_1972_Eartha_Kitt/16729 .- -
    - the internal BBC MB link still works - surprisingly as they've only just removed the MB/access to..)
    The Carewe I seem to recall was the EMI/CfP version ?? - once had a damaged copy of a very fine/elusive LP.


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