When Stravinsky wrote L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) in 1918, Europe was deeply mired in the Great War. Stranded in neutral Switzerland and despondent over reports of senseless brutalities from the front, the youthful (36-year-old) composer–with the help of Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz–came up with this morality play, a combination of music, dance, and the spoken word that gently and bleakly underscores the capriciousness of fate. The soldier, an earnest young villager in search of happiness, is tempted and manipulated by the devil; he’s everyman, rendered helpless by forces beyond his control. Intended for performance in village halls, the music in L’histoire du soldat is a model of appealing simplicity that transcends national limitations: for the first time in his lengthy career, Stravinsky interwove Russian folk materials with tunes–the tango, ragtime–from other lands. Recent events in the Persian Gulf make this rare complete presentation of L’histoire du soldat–by the Chicago Chamber Musicians, a classy outfit headed by pianist Deborah Sobol and Chicago Symphony clarinetist Larry Combs–more timely than ever. Veteran actor Byrne Piven plays the devil and George Keating the soldier, Lawrie Bloom narrates, and Mary Heller of the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre does her part. The top half of the bill holds Debussy’s fancy-free First Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano and Brahms’s lustrous Sonata for Violin and Piano no. 2. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 Sheridan Road, Evanston; Monday, 7:30 PM, DePaul University Concert Hall, 800 W. Belden; 973-4513.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Hauser.