Presentation

THE SOLDIER'S TALE

F. Ramuz
Igor Strawinsky
(1918)

Complete original version in French (and Spanish)

Stage Manager/Director: Angel Luis Ojea
Musical Director: Luis Miguel Abello
Production: "Ciudad de León" Concert Hall.

Première on June 16, 2004 at the "Ciudad de León" Concert Hall


Halfway between ballet, camera opera, popular theatre and staged fable lays I. Stravinsky and C.F. Ramuz "The Soldier's Tale", to be "read, played and danced". The first performance, conducted by Ernest Ansermet, took place on Sept. 28, 1918 at the Théâtre Municipal of Lausanne. When World War I began, Stravinsky moved to Switzerland. Ramuz was a French novelist who was also living there during the war. Due to wartime conditions both men were in need of money. Stravinsky could not receive any funds from his estate in Russia, neither royalties from his publishers. Forced to write pieces for smaller groups, they joined Ernest Ansermet and swiss artist René Auberjonois (who designed the costumes) for this small and mobile production, that could be played on any kind of stage, as a way to make some money. The "orchestra" of this camera opera uses the most pitch-aggressive members of each traditional family: pairs of woodwinds (clarinet and bassoon) and brass (trombone and trumpet), treble strings (violin), and bass strings (double bass), as well as a set of percussion instruments close to those of a jazz band or a circus. Apart from the bassoon, not used by the jazzmen (its part can be transcribed for alto saxophone), this "orchestra" resembles more a jazz band than an instrumental ensemble as the ones commonly used for a camera piece. The whole project and its première in 1918 were sponsored by swiss financier Werner Reinhart. This cultivated man and big lover of music was also an excellent amateur clarinetist. Stravinksy not only dedicated his three pieces for solo clarinet to him, but also arranged the Soldier's Tale into a suite for the clarinet, violin and piano, which was performed for the first time in Lausanne, Zurich and Geneva in November and December, 1919 by José Porta, Edmont Allegra, and José Iturbi.

As for the text, Ramuz combines two tales from the Russian collector Alexander Afanasiev: in one text, a soldier tricks the devil by getting him drunk and giving him pellets as if they were caviar; in the other one, the devil steals the fiddle of a soldier who had deserted the army. Stravinsky and Ramuz agreed to remove any trace of Russian character from the story and broaden it into a more universal tale. Sometimes it has been considered as a reduced version of the Book of Faust. No explanations given, everything is direct. "Give me your fiddle" are the devil's first words.

At first, "The Soldier's Tale" is a ballet that must be "read, played and danced". At the beginning we find an introductory march, then six scenes and two interludes: The Soldier's March, Airs by a Stream, Pastorale, Royal March, Little Concert, Three Dances: Tango, Waltz and Ragtime, The Devil's Dance, The Great Chorale, and The Devil's Triumphant March.

The Violin (the Soldier's Soul) is dubbed on stage by an actor, but it is almost as eloquent in the Suite. The musical atmosphere is close to that of a circus or a group of travelling musicians: "funfair music". The Soldier leads the march, then enters the scene tuning his fiddle and conducts the musicians in the scene, keeping this funfair musical style. Figures in thirds, long bow, and spiccato give this alleyways violin a sickly and authentic tone over the jazzy rhythm of the double bass. In the pastoral scene the bow lengthens, since the Devil's shadow takes shape. A little baroque sinphony emerges then from the sounds of the violin, the clarinet and the bassoon, until the violin walks into the king's house to cure his ill daughter. In the Royal March we can hear the sounds of a town music band celebrating some festivity. To a great extent, the score of this march was influenced by a "Pasodoble" Stravinsky heard during a journey across Spain. The trombone and the bugle (trumpet) make their way with the violin over a counterpoint of irreproachable ... vulgarity. The clarinet contributes with the salt of its humbug timbre to this humoristic parade. The Little Concert brings us a dazzling display of poliphonic writing for three voices (violin, clarinet and bugle) of quite dissimilar timbre, for twenty-eight measures. After this, the score gets suddenly chromatic, while we find the re-exposition truncated. Then, Stravinsky reduces the three dances to the bone: the Tango is more sentimental than it originally was, the Waltz is turned into a caricature, and the Ragtime seems to be there just for the violin to practice. The Devil's Dance is the first false exit, a false ending. The Little Concert is also a decoy, with the caricature of a Protestant chorale. After The Great Chorale, the Devil, in his Triumphant March, inch by inch forces the violin along his way against his own will, and while losing his voice until it gets teared to musical shreds, the "Diablerie" of the percussion swells, and a last call from the beloved one gets lost in the relentless march towards the void.