17 October 2022
“Between Verdun and the Somme
Not one soldier going home!”
In the spring of 1917, four German soldiers hear that a revolution has started in Russia and elect to desert and go into hiding until the ‘Inevitable Revolution’ spreads all over Europe – why wouldn’t it, since everyone on the front and in the factories has had enough of the ongoing war? But when faced with the egoistic motives of their anarchist leader Fatzer, they realize the course of history never does run smooth…
Stravinsky and Ramuz’s L’Histoire du soldat, created in Switzerland in 1917, has at its heart two blind spots which, as a fable about individual happiness, it turns away from with an obstinacy that can only feel intriguing: the deadliest war in history, and an unprecedented revolutionary movement that almost toppled a continent’s bellicose empires into communist societies. It was the intuition that the failure of this movement — and Europe’s concomitant plunge into hatred and totalitarianism — had something to do with the internal paradox of this work that prompted us to re-explore this classic in order to learn from it; the kind of learning that can be derived not from the exegesis of a sacred text but from free conversation.
We turned to the five movements of the Trio Suite that Stravinsky himself drew from his own work in 1919: detached from its original dramaturgy, its music opens up to new associations. We built a new story around it, inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s unfinished fragments for two projects, the Lehrstück Downfall of the Egoist Johann Fatzer and the opera The Travels of the God of Happiness — two texts that also question that same pivotal moment in history when everything could have turned upside down.
That moment in 1917 was when mass propaganda and mechanized destruction took a lasting hold on Western societies and gave rise to the world we live in today. Not surprisingly, it was also the moment when Stravinsky and Brecht developed, separately and each in their own way, an art form we now call music theatre. In this ironically philosophical and interdisciplinary form of chamber theatre, developed with the care befitting chamber music, media are not fused into a total, monolithic work of art, but interact as equals — and their friction produces sparks. Music theatre is an exaltation of heterogeneity, against consensus. A weapon of resistance, like the cabaret and collage that irrigated it at the same time, music theater offers itself to us as a legacy that needs to be built on in dire times to come.
Disclaimer: As The Fatzer Soldier’s Tale presents Igor Stravinsky’s Trio Suite, which was originally intended for concert performances without text, in a stage version with a new text, it has been banned from performance by the composer’s estate, and will not be available on European tour until Stravinsky’s catalogue enters public domain on January 1, 2042.
La Chambre aux échos
Text and Stage Direction
Aliisa Neige Barrière
June 2019 (1st workshop perf.)
Nordlyd Festival, Oslo
November 2019 (2nd workshop perf.)
Finnish Institute, Paris
with Secession Orchestra
17 October 2022 (WP)