Histoire du soldat (sometimes written L'histoire du soldat; translated as The Soldier's Tale) is a 1918 theatrical work "to be read, played, and danced" ("lue, jouée et dansée") set to music by Igor Stravinsky. The libretto, which is based on a Russian folk tale, was written in French by the Swiss universalist writer C.F. Ramuz. It is a parable about a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for a book that predicts the future of the economy. The music is scored for a septet of violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet (often played on trumpet), trombone, and percussion, and the story is told by three actors: the soldier, the devil, and a narrator, who also takes on the roles of minor characters. A dancer plays the non-speaking role of the princess, and there may also be additional ensemble dancers. The piece was written for small ensemble to compensate for the lack of players due to World War I (since so many were enlisted in the armed services).
The libretto has been translated into English by Michael Flanders and Kitty Black, and by Jeremy Sams, and into German by Hans Reinhart.
A full performance of Histoire du soldat takes about an hour. The music is in the modernist style and is rife with changing time signatures. For this reason, it is commonly performed with a conductor, though some ensembles have elected to perform the piece without one. Much of the music – especially the concerto-like violin part – is considered virtuosic.
The work was premiered in Lausanne on 28 September 1918, conducted by Ernest Ansermet.
Stravinsky was assisted greatly in the production of the work by the Swiss philanthropist Werner Reinhart. Reinhart sponsored and largely underwrote the premiere. In gratitude, Stravinsky dedicated the work to Reinhart, and gave him the original manuscript. Reinhart continued his support of Stravinsky’s work in 1919 by funding a series of concerts of his recent chamber music. These included a concert suite of five numbers from The Soldier’s Tale, arranged for clarinet, violin, and piano, which was a nod to Reinhart, who was regarded as an excellent amateur clarinettist. The suite was first performed on 8 November 1919, in Lausanne, long before the better-known suite for the seven original performers became known.