25 September 2023

The Soldier’s Tale

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Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

Stravinsky with narration by Roger Waters, Sony Music 2018.

Roger Waters has been responding to the idiocy of war via music for a long time, both as a member of Pink Floyd through the The Wall album, and as a solo artist through albums such as The Final Cut (1983).

But this album is something completely different.

The Soldier’s Tale is a disturbing fairytale and anti-war piece that was composed by Igor Stravinsky as his reaction to the horrors of the First World War, The Great War, the War to End All Wars.

It’s a story about an apparent chance meeting between the Devil and the Soldier by the side of a road where the devil offers him a deal, exchanging the Soldier’s violin for a book that is intended to make him rich.

This is indeed what happens but it does not result in happiness.

The words were written by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, who availed himself of elements of a number of Russian fairytales.

Despite the immediacy and relevance of The Soldier’s Tale, Stravinsky’s musical approach and the biting commentary of the text was perceived at the time as provocative and consequentially was not well received.

The result it is that it is rarely heard these days.

Waters deliberately uses a British accent thus inferring an English perspective to the tale.

He is an outstanding narrator.

When the Devil and Soldier argue towards the end of the opening section of Stravinsky’s story, we experience a very real sense of fear.

Waters articulates this violent dispute with so much cold fury that we suddenly sympathise with the drama of the ordinary man who wants too much and risks too much.

There are many personal reasons why Roger Waters chose to do this seldom attempted piece.

Firstly, he has wanted to engage more deeply with the work of a composer whose weight and occasional inaccessibility in some ways is mirrored by his own musical experiences, and secondly the two world wars have left their mark on the Waters household.

He lost his father in the second world war and one of his grandfathers in the first.

This is a very powerful piece and shows what a great performer, and committed anti-war crusader, Roger Waters is.

Stravinsky’s work was intended to rouse its listeners out of their complacency.

Roger Waters has brought it to life with total commitment and dedication.

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