News and Reviews

The Commercial Roots of Histoire du Soldat

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat is a beloved artistic work, so it is ironic that it was initially conceived as a commercial vehicle.

He wrote it because he needed cash. Because of World War I, the composer was living in Switzerland and was experiencing severe limitations on funds, it occurred to him that a small portable theater on a circuit of Swiss villages and small towns might provide an income. Stravinsky composed Histoire du Soldat in Morges, Switzerland, in 1918, with Swiss writer and poet C. F. Ramuz providing the libretto.

Playbill from Histoire du Soldat’s world premier, September 1918

Its world premier was on September 28, 1928, at the Théâtre Municipal de Lausanne, with Ernest Ansermet conducting. The first performances took place under circumstances altogether different from those Stravinsky had imagined, namely as an exceedingly fashionable event under the patronage of the exiled Grand Duchess Helen. Although it began as a success, Histoire fell victim to the epidemic of Spanish influenza that forced the sudden closing of all the theaters in Lausanne.

The Johnson County Community College Performing Arts Series will present the Bach Aria Soloists in Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18. Tickets are available through the JCCC Box Office.

Part of this article was adapted from an essay by Michael Steinberg, San Francisco Symphony annotator, 1979-1999.