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Past Exhibition of the Month - September 2018

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First edition of the complete piano score [with cues]. London & Mainz, 1924. This copy was owned by the composer Mátyás Seiber.

First edition of the complete piano score [with cues]. London & Mainz, 1924. This copy was owned by the composer Mátyás Seiber.

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The Soldier's Tale (1918)

The première of Stravinsky's Histoire du Soldat took place at the Théâtre Municipal, Lausanne on 28 September 1918.  The piece was a collaboration between the composer, who had settled with his family in Morges (after several other Swiss addresses) in the summer of 1915, and the well-known local writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947).  The two had been introduced by the Geneva conductor Ernest Ansermet and quickly became close friends, Ramuz providing French texts for most of the Russian vocal works which Stravinsky produced during the war years.  The Soldier's Tale was their response to a time of particular financial crisis for the exiled Stravinsky.  Originally conceived as a travelling-theatre show, to be 'read [i.e. narrated], played and danced' and toured economically throughout Switzerland, it had by the time of the first performance grown well beyond the concept of a trestle stage and non-paying bystanders.  Although remembered by the composer as an outstanding success, that performance (conducted by Ansermet) was unfortunately to prove a 'one-off''; an outbreak of a virulent strain of Spanish flu fom the next day caused the cancellation of a planned follow-up tour of six municipal theatres (and further financial loss).

As a partial rescue operation, Stravinsky arranged a suite of five movements for violin, clarinet and piano during the following months and this was premièred in Lausanne in November 1919; in 1920 it became the first portion of the work to be published - by J. W. Chester of London.  He then assembled a 'Grande Suite' of the eight major movements in their original instrumentation for seven players.  This received its first performance at London's Wigmore Hall on 20 July 1920 - an event described sixteen years later by Eugene Goossens as 'the first and finest performance ever given of L'Histoire du Soldat in London - under Ansermet, a feat of virtuoso conducting rarely equalled anywhere in my experience'.  Chester's published a piano arrangement of this Grande Suite in 1922.  Finally a run of staged performances (in Berlin, Paris and Frankfurt) in 1924 saw publication of the complete work in full, miniature and piano scores.  The first UK staging was London's Arts Theatre Club in July 1927.

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Programme of the first performance, as reproduced in the above score.

C. F. Ramuz and Stravinsky (from Ramuz : Souvenirs sur Igor Stravinsky, Lausanne, 1946.)

Stravinsky's arrangement for piano solo of the Grande Suite. London, 1922. Royal College of Music, London.

Costume design by René Auberjonois for the Devil. Reproduced as frontispiece to the Miniature Score. London & Vienna, 1924.

Flyer for a concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall, London, 5 June 1956. Philip Jones replaced Harold Jackson as trumpeter at this performance. Michael Flanders's translation, probably heard here for the first time, has since become the standard English text.