David Valdés

"Histoire du Soldat", what about the "L´"?

“Histoire du Soldat”, by Igor Stravinsky, is one of the most important works in the percussion repertoire, as it was one of the first to be written for a percussion set. Apart from its “percusive” importance, it is a masterwork which is played very often, whether staged or in a suite format, and it is part of the “stravinskian” canon and a milestone in the 20th-century music.

Histoire du Soldat. Percussion part.
Front cover of my critical edition of the percussion part.

The libretto was written by Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, and it is based in several tales compiled by Viktor Afanasyev. I knew these tales thanks to a Christmas present and I keep wonderful memories, as my father used to read them to my brother and me before going to bed. More precisely, it is tale #154, “The Fugitive Soldier and the Devil”, the one Ramuz based his text on.


Stravinsky and Ramuz co-wrote a wonderful work together; the former the music, the latter the text. It was published as “Histoire du Soldat”.

"Histoire du Soldat". C. F. Ramuz - I. Stravinsky.

An already very famous Stravinsky was living in the USA in 1944 while Ramuz was languising in Morges. Then, and taking advantage of the success of “Histoire du Soldat”, the libretist decided to publish the text of the play without music and without crediting Stravinsky.

"Histoire du Soldat". C.F. Ramuz.

This really bothered the composer (we can see that on the letters they exchanged; “Stravinsky. Selected Correspondence. Vol. III”. Robert Craft. Published by Robert A. Knopf, New York-1985) who, on top of thinking that “Histoire” was a whole where text and music could not be separated, he also belived that Ramuz was taking advantage of his fame. Stravinsky also felt very dissapointed because he was not even credited.


“Histoire du Soldat” was also used on the play bill for the premiere. The Theatre de Lausanne is now Opéra de Lausanne, we can see Ramuz and Stravinsky, Auberjonois (in charge of the set and the costumes), Miss and Mister Pitoeff (in charge of the staging and the coreography), actors, the narrator and a list of musicians (conducted by Ansermet). The score, the book and the play bill prove that the title of the work is “Histoire du Soldat”.

Play bill for the premiere.

The work was not staged again until some years later due to the influenza. It was in 1920 that Stravinsky prepared a suite (the one we know today) to be performed in London, and there is where the “problem” started, as he titled it “Grande Suite de l´Histoire du Soldat”. That apostrophe confused the editors and musicians that, not knowing enough French, when getting rid of “Grande Suite de” they believed the title was “L´Histoire du Soldat”, but no.


The covers of this work and the play bill state “Histoire du Soldat”, but if I am refering to it when speaking or writing, I must use the article and write “Grande Suite de l´Histoire de Soldat”. For the same reason, I can write “eau” (“water”), but if I want to ask for “a little bit of water”, I must write the article: “un peu de l´eau”. That is how French grammar works, and the article is needed in many cases.


Surprisingly, this work is known in many English-speaking countries by its French title, so it is said “Histoire du Soldat” or “L´Histoire du Soldat” (the correct one is, of course, the former one).


It happens that, for some time now (and promoted mainly by William Kraft -may he rest in peace- in his own edition of the percussion part and by his comments in social media stating that “Stravinsky never wrote “L´Histoire”), it has become quite trendy in groups, social media and other places where percussionists hang around, to point with the finger and to vehemently correct anyone who dares to say “L´Histoire du Soldat”. At that point, the debate loses interest in favor of a pointless discussion; that is, that the title features no “L´”. Percussionists, then, stop admiring the moon and start discussing about how dirty is the finger pointing to our satelite.


Yes, the correct title is “Histoire du Soldat”, but discussing about the “L´” is wasting time in a non very important issue. Stravinsky, contrary to the belief that he never wrote “´L´Histoire” did it, indeed, on two ocasions in the title of his work; on the 1920 suite, as mentioned before and, believe or not, on the front cover of the 1918 manuscript.

histoire du soldat
Front cover of the 1918 manuscript. Dep RS 75.

Stravinsky knew French, and he wrote, following the rules of the French grammar, “L´Histoire du Soldat” as many times as it was necessary depending on the context. Let us not make drama about this issue or give it more importance than it really has (which is close to zero).


This also proves that none of the percussionists that have published their own edition of the percussion part (and that includes Kraft) have ever consulted the manuscript; should they had, they would have inmediately realized the obvious; that the title is, of course, “Histoire du Soldat”, but Stravinsky wrote “l´Histoire du Soldat” as needed, as he was quiet fluent in French.


My critical edition of “Histoire du Soldat” includes many never-published-before information, historical data, graphics, photos, drawings, quotes, stickings, instruments, setup, bibliography, etc. 84 pages full of information based, mainly but not only, on the 1918 sketches and manuscript (kept at the Paul Sacher Foundation and the Rychenberg Foundation, respectively). These sources have not been consulted untill today, and they contain VITAL information to make a definitive edition.


Should you want to purchase a copy, please visit THIS LINK. If you are ordering from outside the U.S.A., please write an email to info@steveweissmusic.com, where they will happily take your order.



…et in Arcadia ego.

© David Valdés