What can I do to have nothing again?

Eric Bromberger wrote, in a program note for Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat:

Stravinsky spent the difficult period of World War I in Switzerland. The war prevented productions of Stravinsky’s music, halting his income, and the Russian Revolution cut him off from his homeland. Now Stravinsky became friends with the Swiss novelist C.F. Ramuz and suggested that they create a theater-piece based on two Russian folktales about the devil and a soldier. The version that Ramuz and Stravinsky created became L’Histoire du SoldatThe Soldier’s Tale–completed in 1918 . . . .

At its first performance on September 28, 1918, L’Histoire was a great success, but Stravinsky’s hopes for financial success from a tour were quickly dashed. The flu epidemic of 1918 hit Switzerland at this point, affecting several of the performers, and the tour had to be abandoned.

As one person interviewed put it, about the end of Part One:

this is to me the crux of the moment. It’s the end of part one when the soldier realizes that even though he has sold everything and has now all of his wealth, he really has nothing. And he says “they have nothing. And yet they have it all. And I who have everything, I have nothing. Nothing. How can that be? Satan, Satan, you’ve cheated me! What can I do? Does it say in the book? He snatches it up and starts to look. “You must know, you must know, tell me how, everyone, how all others are happy. How is it done? You must know, you must know. You must tell me. Explain! What can I do to have nothing again?”

Once again, thanks and praise must go to David Nice for an illuminating discussion of this and others of Stravinsky’s works and for noting this brilliant performance of the work.

Bonus Track (with thanks, once again, to David Nice, for spotting this and bringing it to the class’s attention):

The source for the image at the head of the post may be found here.

2 thoughts on “What can I do to have nothing again?

  1. hilarymb

    Hi Susan – thanks for the introduction to The Soldier’s Tale … and for getting me to look at Stravinsky’s life a bit more … it was brief I’m afraid … perhaps I will have time to listen anon … I hope all’s well with you – all the best – Hilary

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