Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale (l’Histoire du soldat), “to be read, played, and danced,” on a libretto by C F Ramuz; English translation by Michael Flanders

Reviewed on Mon 21 Jan, 2019

The miniature orchestra of seven players projects a triumph of imaginative scoring, the composer’s accommodation to the wartime scarcity of players.

Most of us know the miniature masterpiece by its French title, l’Histoire du soldat, and in its 30-minute suite form without the narration. This complete version of 1919, 55 minutes long, uses Michael Flanders’s English adaptation of C F Ramuz’s original French text in rhymed couplets; Malcolm Sinclair genially reads all the spoken parts. The miniature orchestra of seven players projects a triumph of imaginative scoring, the composer’s accommodation to the wartime scarcity of players; the entire corps de ballet, if one can call it that, instruments included, would fit easily on the flatbed of a truck. In its brazen but sparkling sound, this work displays a vivid transition from Stravinsky’s characteristic Russian melody to a Parisian neoclassicism, with an amazing originality in both rhythm and harmony. One critic called it a “musical cocktail,” and that’s both a whimsical and an apt description.
–Mark DeVoto