An American Soldier’s Tale = STRAVINSKY: L’histoire du soldat, with new libretto by Kurt Vonnegut; Suite for Clarinet, Violin & Piano from L’histoire du soldat – American Chamber Winds/David A. Waybright & actors – Summit Records

by | Dec 29, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

An American Soldier’s Tale = STRAVINSKY: L’histoire du soldat, with new libretto by Kurt Vonnegut; Suite for Clarinet, Violin & Piano from L’histoire du soldat  – American Chamber Winds/David A. Waybright & actors – Summit Records DCD 532 [Distr. by Allegro] ***** [Explicit lyric content]:

It’s interesting that this unique CD came in at the same time as the advance DVD of the moving documentary The Good Soldier, which I have reviewed at the same time. They make an excellent pairing, though coming at the horrors of war from entirely different directions. Some years ago Kurt Vonnegut wrote a new libretto for Stravinsky’s chamber piece with narrator, L’histoire du soldat. The producer of this CD picked up a copy of the book and was amazed to find out that nobody seemed to know it existed, and there had never been a public performance with Stravinsky’s score of Vonnegut’s hard-hitting version of the story of the soldier who sold his soul to the devil.

Vonnegut’s alternative libretto is loosely based on a nonfiction book, The Execution of Private Slovik,  which was published in 1954 and received much attention. It concerns the only execution of a U.S. soldier in WWII for desertion in the face of the enemy.  At least 30,000 deserted at the Battle of the Bulge alone, and 49 were tried, but only Eddie Slovik was executed, at the order of General Eisenhower.  Four actors take roles in the dramatization: the General – who is the narrator, Private Slovik, a Red Cross nurse, and an MP. Vonnegut’s language includes the expected military profanities and the quite different story line may even be regarded by some misguided individuals as controversial.

Although the story is entirely different, every bit of Stravinsky’s music is performed by the excellent chamber ensemble, which encores the dramatization with a five-movement instrumental suite from the work, for three instruments. This marriage of the work of Stravinsky and Vonnegut seems completely appropriate and a fascinating alternative to the original 1917 Stravinsky libretto by Ramuz. Both do share a strong concern for the horrors of war – the first stimulated by WWI and the second by WWII, and neither tale has a happy ending. The American Soldier’s Tale has only had a few live performances, and due to an international copyright dispute it could not be commercially recorded until now.

 – John Sunier

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