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The other day, I stumbled across a wonderful live recording of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), a small theater piece he wrote with the Swiss novelist Charles Ferdinand Ramuz at the end of World War I. I was suddenly flooded with memories of the elaborately staged production of the piece I played in as an undergraduate. Why I had forgotten this event for so long intrigues me. The performance had, after all, been a high point in my rather brief musical career, and I remember that playing the role of the fiddler was both strangely troubling and invigorating.

The Soldier’s Tale is now a staple of the classical repertoire, popular for its manageable length (about an hour) and the small corps of musicians (seven) and actors (three) required. For all that, it isn’t easy to pull off. The tricky syncopations Stravinsky used for his pastiche of folk tunes, carnival melodies, tangos, ragtime, even Lutheran chorale, and his sometimes complex wind instrument lines can be challenging. But with a little work, and with a strong Narrator who can take on all the parts—as in the version I recently listened to, featuring the marvelous British baritone Benjamin Luxon—the piece is not only accessible but powerful.

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