Musical tales from Stravinsky and Marsalis

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Friday, November 8, 2019

On today’s date in 1919, a concert suite from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” had its premiere in Lausanne, Switzerland—the same city in which the original theatrical version of Stravinsky’s score was first presented in 1918.

In that original form, “The Soldier’s Tale” was a kind of musical morality play scored for narrator and small chamber ensemble. Stravinsky incorporated elements of American jazz, although what he knew of jazz was derived entirely from looking at sheet music rather than any firsthand experience of actually hearing American jazz.

Eighty years later, for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the American jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis composed “A Fiddler’s Tale”—a companion piece to Stravinsky’s work, scored for the same configuration of instruments.

Wynton Marsalis said, ''No matter what I do, I'm not going to compare myself to Stravinsky. That would be ridiculous. You have to accept who he is and do what you can do, and hope that what you do is on some level of quality.”

Like Stravinsky’s piece, “A Fiddler’s Tale” also exists in two versions: as a theater piece with narrator, and as a purely instrumental suite. Both have been recorded, and both, not surprisingly, feature Wynton Marsalis as the trumpeter.