Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, (The Soldier’s Story) (1918), describes the story of a young soldier in WWI, who gives his violin to the devil in exchange for a book that predicts the economy of the future. (I.”Marche du Soldat”). The devil must teach the soldier how to interpret the book, so the soldier agrees to go home with the devil for three days. (II. “Le violon du Soldat”). When the soldier returns to his home town everyone thinks he is a ghost. He has actually been gone for three years. He starts to despair, but encounters the devil, who encourages him to put the book’s power to good use. The soldier becomes extremely wealthy, but begins to pine for the happiness of his simpler old life. He meets the devil again, who sells him his old violin, but he can no longer play. Then, he sees an old war friend who tells him that nearby a princess is dying, and that the king has announced that whoever heals her will become her husband. The soldier journeys to the castle, but the devil is already there, disguised as a virtuoso violinist. In order to win the princesses hand, the soldier must regain his power. He does so by purposely losing all his money to the devil in a card game. With the return of his power, the devil now falters and the soldier seizes his violin and begins to play. (III. “Petit concert”) When the princess hears the soldier’s violin playing, she becomes miraculously healed and begins to dance. (IV. “Tango-Valse-Rag”). The devil tries to interfere with the couple, but the soldier has power over him as he plays his violin and forces the devil to dance to exhaustion. (V.“Danse du Diable”). The devil succumbs, but warns that if the soldier ever leaves the castle, the devil will take possession of his soul. Years later, the princess convinces the soldier to return to his hometown to see his mother. As he approaches her door, the devil is there waiting to take him away.
L’Histoire du Soldat, is full of the wit and humor of Stravinsky. The violin is guttural and raw, while the clarinet seems to have an erratic will of its own, often breaking in at “inappropriate” moments and interrupting the violin. The piano acts as a combination of the rhythm section and a piano in a “honky tonk” bar. The rhythms are always shifting and changing, and the music incorporates elements of jazz, Viennese waltz, and ragtime.
This piece is originally a theatrical piece written for violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and percussion. The story is told by actors playing the parts of the soldier, the devil, and a narrator. A dancer plays the non-speaking part of the princess. The condensed trio version was later arranged by the composer. --Sarah Wallin 04:50, 17 May 2008 (UTC) (program notes written by pianist Brigitte Garney, submitted with permission)