Nashoba Valley Chamber Ensemble performs “L’Histoire du Soldat”

(The Nashoba Valley Chamber Ensemble performed a piece by Igor Stravinsky.)

The Ecumenical Center hosted the Nashoba Valley Chamber Ensemble for the first midday performance of the 2018 spring semester on Monday.

The Ensemble performed “L’Histoire du Soldat,” by

The Nashoba Valley Chamber Ensemble performed a piece by Igor Stravinsky.

, a hundred-year-old work for clarinet, violin, double-bass bassoon, trombone, cornet and percussion.

The piece tells the tale of a Russian soldier named Joseph who trades his fiddle to the devil in exchange for riches only to later discover that the bargain was not as favorable as it originally seemed.

“L’Histoire du Soldat” is a theatrical work conceived by Stravinsky and Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz in 1918 and is based on a Russian folktale called “The Runaway Soldier and the Devil” by Alexander Afanasyev. The tale is a narrative and is meant to be performed in conjunction with a dance routine that could not be replicated in the limited space of the Ecumenical Center.

The tale is meant to be read aloud as well, and each piece of it was interspersed with the ensemble’s own narration of Joseph’s journey.

“The Soldier’s March” begins with Joseph’s return home, pack in tow. He rests by a stream and rummages through his pack for his fiddle, which he begins to play in “Airs by a Stream.” The devil hears Joseph playing and disguises himself in order to approach the soldier and bargain for his fiddle.

Joseph ends up trading the fiddle for a book the devil says will amass him great wealth. The devil promises to teach him how to use the book over the course of three days, but afterwards, Joseph realizes much more time has passed and his old life is gone, his friends and family having given him up for dead.

The violin is the driving force behind this performance. The sense of urgency created by the many layers of percussion and bass build up the violin’s carefully measured and earnest sound.

Part two of the performance tells of Joseph’s struggle to restore his old life and lift the devil’s curse by beating him in a game of cards and ultimately marrying the daughter of a king. Bitter in his defeat, the devil warns Joseph that if he leaves his new castle home, he will be waiting to take control of him again in “The Devil’s Song.”

The performance ends with “The Triumphal March of the Devil.” Years later, Joseph chooses to leave his new home to return to visit his mother, but true to his threat, the devil is waiting for him and once again takes control.

The moral of “L’Histoire du Soldat” is clearly laid out in the closing lines of the “Grand Choral.” The narrator cautions the audience, “No one can have it all, it is forbidden. / You must learn to choose between. / One happy thing is every happy thing: / Two, is as if they had never been.”

The tale of the solder Joseph in “L’Histoire du Soldat” is rather morose but the Nashoba Valley Chamber Ensemble performed it with the diligence and vigor that makes this century-old performance feel like the energetic series of the dance numbers it truly is.

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