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Honorary Adene and Richard Wilson Concert: Histoire Du Soldat

  • Skinner Hall of Music
  • Saturday, February 3, 3:00 p.m.

Vassar’s music faculty performs the music of Rogerson, Richard Wilson, and Stravinsky’s Duo Concertante and L’Histoire du Soldat. Scored for seven instrumentists and narrator, L’Histoire is a modern-day Faust tale about a soldier, his violin, and an unfortunate deal with the Devil. Written at the end of World War I, Stravinsky uses the influences of tango, waltz, ragtime, klezmer, and Bach in his Grand Chorale. Thomas Sauer, piano, Grace Park, violin, Drew Minter, narrator, Marka Young, violin, Daniel Merriman, bass, Ian Tyson, clarinet, Elisabeth Romano, bassoon, James Osborn, trumpet, Paul Bellino, trombone, Frank Cassara, percussion, Eduardo Navega, conductor.

The Pieces

Lullaby: No Bad Dreams

by Chris Rogerson (b. 1988)
Grace Park, violin
Thomas Sauer, piano

Eclogue (1974)

Richard Wilson (b. 1941)
Thomas Sauer, piano

Duo concertant

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

Cantilène, Eglogue I, Eglogue II, Gigue, Dithyrambe: Grace Park, violin; Thomas Sauer, piano


Histoire du Soldat (1918)


Part I

  1. The Soldier’s March
  2. Airs by a Stream
  3. The Soldier’s March (reprise)
  4. Pastoral
  5. Airs by a Stream (reprise)

Part II

  1. The Soldier’s March
  2. The Royal March
  3. The Little Concert
  4. Three Dans\ces
    • Tango
    • Waltz
    • Ragtime
  5. The Devil’s Danse
  6. Petite Choral
  7. The Devil’s Song
  8. Grand Choral
  9. Triumphal March of the Devil

Drew Minter, narrator; Marka Young, violin; Daniel Merriman, bass;
Ian Tyson, clarinet; Elisabeth Romano, bassoon; James Osborn, trumpet;
Paul Bellino, trombone; Frank Cassara, percussion; Eduardo Navega, conductor

Please join us for a reception following the concert in the
Bridge for Laboratory Sciences sponsored by the Department of Music

The People

Composer Chris Rogerson has been hailed as a “confident, fully-grown composing talent” (The Washington Post) whose music has “virtuosic exuberance” and “haunting beauty” (The New York Times). He has received commissions and performances from orchestras, including the San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and Houston Symphony. He served as Composer-in-Residence and Artistic Advisor at the Amarillo Symphony from 2014–2017, where the Symphony premiered his orchestral work “Dolos Sielut” as well as his clarinet concerto “Four Autumn Landscapes” with soloist Anthony McGill. He has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and Copland House, and was a Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival, where he won the Jacob Druckman Award.

Recipient of the 2012 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Mr. Rogerson has also won BMI Student Composer Awards, the New York Art Ensemble Composition Competition, the Presser Music Award, the ASCAP’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and prizes from the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts and the National Association for Music Education. Mr. Rogerson studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he currently serves on the Musical Studies Faculty, the Yale School of Music, and Princeton University.

“This work for violin and piano recalls those memories of my childhood before bedtime. The opening section is very calm and serene, but it soon gives way to a more playful middle section (perhaps a reflection of the nights on which I had too much sugar). This section leads into the climax of the piece, which harks back to the opening, but now the beginning material is more troubled and anguished, a foreshadowing of the potential nightmares to come. These conflicts are quieted in the ending, but there remains a tinge of darkness as the piece descends into sleep and the magical world of dreams.” —Chris Rogerson

Richard Wilson, Professor of Music Emeritus, Vassar College, is the composer of three symphonies, six string quartets, and over one hundred other works. His opera, Aethelred the Unready, was given a staged production at New York’s Symphony Space. A recipient of the Roger Sessions Memorial Bogliasco Fellowship as well as an Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Richard has previously received the Hinrichsen Award, the Stoeger Prize, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Burge/Eastman Prize, a Frank Huntington Beebe Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Commissions have come from the Naumburg, Koussevitzky, and Fromm Foundations, as well as the San Francisco Symphony, the Chicago Chamber Musicians, and the Library of Congress. His orchestral works have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, the London Philharmonic, the American Symphony, the Jerusalem Symphony, the Pro-Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Colombia, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic.

Duo Concertant: Igor Stravinsky is on record saying that, prior to working with the Polish-American violinist Samuel Dushkin, he “had taken no pleasure in the blend of strings struck in the piano with strings set in vibration with the bow.” This decidedly modernist viewpoint flew in the face of some quite wonderful European music dating as far back as the 1780s, and Stravinsky came to modify it after playing alongside Dushkin, for whom he wrote the Duo concertant heard this afternoon, and with whom he transcribed portions of two of his ballets (Le baiser de la fée and Pulcinella). The composer considered his Duo to be “a lyrical composition, a work of musical versification.” Versifying is of course the work of a poet, hence the movement headings of eclogue and dithyramb, borrowed from Greek antiquity. The Cantilène and Gigue are more specifically musical references, and their rougher edges and greater sense of disruption reveals something of Stravinsky's droll humor: the musician appears most awkward on his home turf (so to speak). Following the disjointed Gigue, the Dithyrambe elevates irony to the highest aesthetic realm: a Bacchic frenzy it most certainly is not. Instead, it seems as if Attic statues tentatively unfreeze themselves, remembering momentarily the beauty of life that will soon recede again, beyond their grasp, for all eternity.

Thomas Sauer
Adjunct Artist in Music

Notes on Histoire du Soldat

Text by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz
Music by Igor Stravinsky

Contemporary audiences can be forgiven for believing Histoire du Soldat to be the product of Stravinsky’s genius alone. Through its more familiar repackaging as a concert suite, his composition is the most enduring part of what was an ambitious, albeit ill-fated traveling show created by a Lausanne-based artist collective during the Great War. Before being beset by budgeting woes, scheduling conflicts, and the so-called Spanish Influenza, The Soldier was a miniature spectacle to be “spoken, played, and danced,” ideally to war-weary audiences across neutral Switzerland. The conductor Ernest Ansermet, himself essential to the production’s realization, sentimentally recounted the shared troubles from which The Soldier grew:

Times were hard. Round about them a great war devastated the world. All the standards of life were changed…Yet neither poet [Ramuz] nor musician [Stravinsky] dreamed of abandoning their work…They wished to find a form of art by which they could justify themselves in this new life.

At The Soldier’s core is Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz’s French modernization of “The Deserter and the Devil,” a Russian-Slavic folktale codified in the previous century by Alexander Afanasyev (1826–1871). Stravinsky’s music—first envisioned for solo violin, with the possible addition of accordion and guitar—played a supportive role from the outset. As the composer remarked in 1921, his stylistic intention was to be “very simple,” even though his ensemble eventually expanded to two woodwinds, two brass, and two strings, plus a striking coterie of percussion instruments.

The folktale’s subversive social commentary was intensified through René Auberjonis’ theatrical designs. He fashioned chronologically mismatched costumes, which enhanced the temporal and geolocational ambiguities already present in Afanasyev’s source material. A certain mischievous delight was found in The Devil’s numerous wardrobe changes, as he morphed from a butterfly catcher into a cattle trader into his more menacing figure over the course of the show. Before mutating into a successful but soulless businessman, The Soldier wore the military dress of the Vaud canton, the Swiss birthplace of Ansermet, Auberjonis, and Ramuz. For future traveling performances, the protagonist’s uniform would match those of the regional troops—essentially playing upon the favor of local audiences.

Considering the dramatis personae, The Devil’s role was truly duplicitous, as it required the efforts of two people: an actor and a dancer. The nascent humorist, poet, and cabaret performer Jean Villard became the première’s Devil-with-dialogue. And, in a somewhat mismatched casting choice, the serious stage-actor Georges Pitoëff danced the part. His wife Ludmilla Pitoëff pantomimed the damsel-in-distress role of Princess. Élie Gagnebin—a young philosopher, poet, and future professor at the University of Lausanne—led the cast as the omnipotent, intervening Reader.

Stravinsky himself could have played an equally impactful, but brief stage role in the 1918 première. Ramuz, anxious The Tale’s ending might fall flat in The Devil’s Triumphal March, wrote the composer just weeks before opening night. His sincere proposal to Stravinsky: “And then you dance the last scene yourself: you will liven it rhythmically and save everything.” Ramuz’s choreographic wish remained unfulfilled; Stravinsky would not materialize onstage as the show’s third and final Devil.

Although locations, time periods, and identities in the tale constantly dance about, The Devil’s fiendish influence upon The Soldier proves a stable one. Through a series of bargains and misjudgments, the tragicomic protagonist gains wealth, worldly knowledge, and social standing. But he forfeits all aspects of his younger, innocent self in return.

We first meet our homeward-bound, hungry “serviceman” with only a violin (his soul) to his name. The disguised Devil, craving the mortal’s musical ability for his own, convinces him to forgo the instrument (and provide lessons for a few days) in return for food and a magic book. But the tricky deal costs The Soldier even more: those lessons stripped away three years of his life. Upon leaving The Devil’s domain, The Soldier soon finds himself a pariah in the world he once knew. Returning to his company would be folly since death certainly awaits the military deserter. What future could he possibly have in this accursed state?

The Soldier’s existential conundrum is solved by The Devil’s magic book, which affords him a new life in another town. Even more time passes, as he becomes a wealthy and admired businessman. Yet, despite (or perhaps due to) his financial success, our protagonist is a man without qualities: his violin, his happiness, his home, and indeed, his very spirit are all distant memories. So, in a life affirming turn, the soldier-turned-financier determines to mount a hero’s journey. He drops almost everything to save the ailing Princess, another victim of the Devil’s misdeeds.

Her rescue is not so simple. To revive her, the would-be hero needs his violin back for good—along with the ability to play it. As he discovers, only by losing his wealth can he wrest the instrument from The Devil’s clutches. So, in a counter-trick that finally gains him the upper hand, the protagonist invites his eager foe to nocturnal card playing parties in the Princess’ chamber. During the third night’s revel, our hero finally gambles away every cent he has. He snatches his instrument from a thoroughly inebriated Devil and jubilantly fiddles upon a neo-classical, if not proto-minimalist “Little Concert.” Then playing a suite of comically mismatched dances—parodies of a South American tango, a Viennese waltz, and a Tin Pan Alley ragtime—our Orphic musician-savior revives the incapacitated Princess. Together, they quickly oust their enemy from the realm. In celebration of their newfound love and salvation from evil, the couple embraces to a harmonically fractured German chorale based upon Martin Luther’s martial hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”).

Most Disney style fairytales would end there. (In Afanasyev’s version, the Soldier eventually becomes King—he gains everything the world could offer). But finding true love and sitting atop the heights of power were not enough for our hero. Something was still missing. Poignant homesickness seizes him. The grave warnings issued by both Speaker and Devil go unheeded: The past is a prize no mortal can attain. In the end, our hero-turned-prince transforms into the most tragic of fools. His lifelong bargain with The Devil ends in oblivion. Compelled to cross existential borders, the lost soul journeys forever onward, towards a place-in-time he will never revisit again.

Alexander Bonus
Visiting Assistant Professor of Music