Igor Stravinsky – The Soldiers Tale (L’histoire du Soldat) – Ojai Festival Ensemble – 1948 – KNX – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Igor Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat had its premier in September of 1918, conducted by Ernest Ansermet. Since that time, its had a series of premiers throughout the world, but it’s first performance on the West Coast of the U.S. was at the Ojai Festival of 1948, 30 years after it made its world premier. And this performance, featuring the original Ojai ensemble and narrator came a week after that and had its radio premier via KNX in Los Angeles. I haven’t been able to locate the details of this West Coast premier or the broadcast; whether or not Stravinsky was present (since he lived in Los Angeles beginning in 1940 until the early 1950s) at the Ojai performance or in the studio during this broadcast.
L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) is a theatrical work “to be read, played, and danced” (lue, jouée et dansée) by three actors and one or several dancers, accompanied by a septet of instruments. The piece was conceived by Igor Stravinsky and Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz based on a Russian folk tale (The Runaway Soldier and the Devil) drawn from the collection of Alexander Afanasyev.
The libretto relates the parable of a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil in return for unlimited economic gain. The music is scored for a septet of violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet (often played on trumpet), trombone, and percussion, and the story is 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 original French text by Ramuz has been translated into English by Michael Flanders and Kitty Black, and into German by Hans Reinhart.
A full performance of L’Histoire du soldat takes about an hour. This performance over KNX was an abbreviated one to conform to a 1/2 time slot.
The music is rife with changing time signatures. For this reason, it is commonly performed with a conductor, though some ensembles have elected to perform the piece without one. The work was premiered in Lausanne on 28 September 1918, conducted by Ernest Ansermet. The British conductor Edward Clark was a friend and champion of Stravinsky and a former assistant conductor to Ansermet at the Ballets Russes. He conducted the British premiere of L’Histoire du soldat in 1926 in Newcastle upon Tyne, and gave three further fully staged performances in London in July 1927.
Stravinsky was assisted greatly in the production of the work by the Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart. Reinhart sponsored and largely underwrote the premiere. In gratitude, Stravinsky dedicated the work to Reinhart, and gave him the original manuscript. Reinhart continued his support of Stravinsky’s work in 1919 by funding a series of concerts of his recent chamber music.These included a concert suite of five numbers from The Soldier’s Tale, arranged for clarinet, violin, and piano, which was a nod to Reinhart, who was regarded as an excellent amateur clarinetist. The suite was first performed on 8 November 1919, in Lausanne, long before the better-known suite for the seven original performers became known.
Aside from maybe the original masters of this broadcast preserved and archived, this is the only recording I know of, and I haven’t seen it issued in any form. So consider it a rarity of an important work.
Aside from a noisy acetate at the start, the sound is good.
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