Performance Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | 7:30 PM

Ensemble ACJW

Featuring musicians of The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education

Weill Recital Hall
Hear the “fun, fearless, and effing great” (Time Out New York) young musicians of Ensemble ACJW bring to life Stravinsky’s jazz-inflected, wacky (but topical) tale of a soldier who sells his soul to the devil for a book that predicts the uncertain economic future—information the soldier uses to become rich. Joining the Stravinsky is a new work by Sleeping Giant, a collective of emerging New York–based composers “rapidly gaining notice for their daring innovations, stylistic range, and acute attention to instrumental nuance” (WQXR).
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The Program


As a collective, Sleeping Giant’s greatest strength is our differences. We are six composers who are joined not by a common aesthetic vision, but by friendship and respect for each other’s distinct creative voices. When we present our music together, the resulting conversation is full of intriguing juxtapositions and unforeseen resonances, something none of us could have imagined alone.

After Carnegie Hall and Ensemble ACJW asked us to write a companion piece to Histoire du soldat, we immediately focused on our individual responses to Stravinsky’s seminal work. From this process of examination, it became clear that each of us had forged a unique and personal relationship to the piece: In different ways, Stravinsky had triggered memories, thoughts, and inspiration. It was as if we were all discovering our own personal histories through the work.

While we have plans to make Histories a concert-length experience with contributions by all six Sleeping Giant composers, we’ve crafted a work for this evening’s performance with substantial pieces by three of us and connecting thoughts from a fourth.

Here’s what we each have to say:

Agitated, stumbling, like an endless run-on sentence

Histoire du soldat was the first piece by Stravinsky that I ever witnessed live; though my young ears were overwhelmed by much of it, I vividly remember being enthralled by the closing percussion solo and wishing it had played a larger role earlier in the piece. It seemed fitting, then, to begin my work the way that Stravinsky ends his, but with two significant twists: First, the percussion solo is orchestrated throughout the entire ensemble; second, it rambles on incessantly, soon migrating far afield. Although my composition is ultimately different from Stravinsky’s, his closing bars acted as an important point of departure—both in the conceptual gestation of my piece, and in its actual notes.

—Jacob Cooper


“Recovering” is about gradually coming back to how things were, and in the process, becoming something new. When wounds heal, new skin grows back in its place.

In my movement of Histories, I selected a brief moment from Histoire du soldat’s “pastorale” music from the third movement and froze it. This gesture is first played by a sustained vibraphone, coated in a delicate haze of breath sounds that are arranged to surround the audience; as in recovery, breathing is the most basic element. Stravinsky’s gesture gradually thaws and gains direction, joined by evolving sounds in the strings. In time, as the work grows more tense, tiny alterations to the gesture—a displaced octave, a new pitch, different harmonies, a regular pulse—re-contextualize it completely from its origins in Histoire du soldat; the piece isspread through the whole hall. Only at this point does the music reach a state of repose and stability, if only temporarily.

“Recovering” is dedicated to my teacher and friend Nils Vigeland, who first introduced me to the wonders of Stravinsky, and in particular Histoire du soldat.

—Christopher Cerrone


For “Marionette,” I approached Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat like a puppeteer. I selected two beats of Stravinskian ephemera, and then cut, layered, and reordered them to create something new. Like Geppetto, I carved musical phrases from this composite material. As the piece unfolds, the phrases develop in a tentative, somewhat awkward way, gaining confidence as they grow, yet never losing a sense of their intrinsic, mismatched construction. Eventually, the music fully embraces its jagged edges and roughhewn seams, reveling in its idiosyncrasies as it reaches a loud, boisterous culmination.

—Robert Honstein

In; Between; Through; Out

My contribution to Histories is a series of “-ludes” of the pre-, post-, and inter- varieties. The musicians mostly face away from each other in these little pieces, chattering up a storm of musical fragments lifted liberally and literally from Histoire du soldat. A long tune (the only original material I wrote for the piece) emerges over the course of all four movements and morphs in the piece’s final measure into a moment of pure Stravinskian cheek.

—Andrew Norman

Histoire du soldat

About the Composer

Igor Stravinsky’s long and storied career took him from the drawing rooms of czarist St. Petersburg to the tinsel-town sound studios of Los Angeles. It was as a Russian nationalist that he rocketed to international fame on the eve of World War I with a trio of colorful folkloric ballets—Firebird, Petrushka, and Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)—written for Serge Diaghilev’s trendy Ballets Russes. The Parisian Stravinsky of the 1920s and ’30s cut a more cosmopolitan figure, characterized by such coolly neoclassical masterpieces as the ballet Apollo and the Violin Concerto in D Major. After emigrating to the United States in 1939, the protean master reinvented himself once again in works like the Hogarth-inspired opera The Rake’s Progress and the spikily serial Movements for piano and orchestra.

About the Work

The inspiration for Histoire du soldat (Soldier’s Tale) was money—or, to be precise, the lack of it. Both Stravinsky and his writer friend C. F. Ramuz, who had previously produced the French texts for Renard and Les noces, found themselves cut off from their usual sources of income in Switzerland during World War I. In early 1918, the two men hatched the idea of collaborating on a small-scale music theater piece that, as Ramuz wrote, could be “mounted without trouble anywhere, even in the open air.” Based on a Russian legend about a soldier-violinist who makes a pact with the Devil and wins the hand of the king’s daughter, only to lose his soul, Histoire du soldat is economical both in its musical means and in its performing forces: a handful of actors and dancers and a seven-piece chamber ensemble.

The premiere in Lausanne on September 28, 1918, conducted by Ernest Ansermet, was an artistic success. “I have never since seen a performance that has satisfied me to the same degree,” Stravinsky wrote years later. As a money-making venture, however, Histoire flopped when the flu pandemic that swept across Europe that fall forced the creators to abandon plans to take their show on the road. Fortunately, Stravinsky had a back-up plan: The suite-like score was designed to be independent of the libretto (all of the text is spoken rather than sung) and had a profitable second life in the concert hall in arrangements for two different instrumental ensembles. 

A Closer Listen

The score of Histoire du soldat displays the hallmarks of Stravinsky’s eclectic and restlessly inventive genius, as he made the transition from the opulent symphonic sound world of his prewar Russian ballets to the lean and transparent neoclassicism of the postwar period. The angular gestures, tangy dissonances, and shifting, jazz-inflected rhythmic patterns (set against a throbbing ostinato beat) are as bracing today as they must have been to listeners in 1918. Echoes of the raucous street-band music that Stravinsky heard in Spain during the war permeate the score, from the jaunty, mock-militaristic “Marche du soldat” (“Soldier’s March”) to the more refined, pasodoble-like strains of the “Marche royale” (“Royal March”). A dulcet-toned, slightly spooky pastorale and a pair of unconventionally harmonized chorales contribute to the general atmosphere of genteel grotesquerie. Stravinsky’s budding interest in African American popular music is reflected in the pièce de résistance, a brilliant and slightly tipsy-sounding medley of popular dances of the day: tango, waltz, and ragtime.

—Harry Haskell

In the Musician’s Own Words

Being the student of Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky’s early works mirrored the nationalist ideals of his teacher, though he quickly began to develop his own personal style. With the year 1918 being a lean post-war time and Stravinsky being broke (deprived of his royalties post-revolution), he invented yet a new style pared down to essentials in melody, rhythm, and instrumentation. His theatrical Histoire du soldat is marked lue, jouée et dansée (“to be danced, played, and read”). Scored for a septet of clarinet, bassoon, cornet (often played on trumpet), trombone, percussion, violin, and bass, a conductor is sometimes needed as the piece is full of changing meters. The story is told by three actors: the soldier, the devil, and a narrator (who is also in charge of minor characters). A dancer plays the non-speaking role of the princess, and there may also be additional dancers. The narrated version is rarely performed, but the ballet has been given several performances of note. Stravinsky dedicated the piece to Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart, who helped in the production of the work and the sponsoring of its premiere. In addition, five of the movements are arranged by Stravinsky himself for a trio of clarinet, violin, and piano, as Reinhart was an excellent amateur clarinetist. In return, Reinhart funded a series of chamber music concerts that featured Stravinsky’s music, including the new trio.

—Moran Katz

Moran Katz is a clarinetist and fellow of The Academy.

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Goldman Sachs Gives 48x37
Lead Support of The Academy is provided by Goldman Sachs Gives.

Major funding for The Academy—a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School, and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education—has been provided by Susan and Edward C. Forst and Goldman Sachs Gives, The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation, the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation, The Irving Harris Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Martha and Bob Lipp, Judith and Burton Resnick, and the Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by The Arnow Family Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Nicola Bulgari, The Edwin Caplin Foundation, the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Mrs. Nancy A. Marks, Mr. and Mrs. Lester S. Morse Jr., the Edward John Noble Foundation, The Joe Plumeri Foundation, and Suki Sandler.

Additional funding provided by Breguet, in partnership with Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom.

The Academy is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State.

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