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Setnor School of Music faculty instrumental in first recording of Vonnegut/Stravinsky's 'An American Soldier's Tale'

February 10, 2010

Erica Blust
(315) 443-5891

The liner notes of Summit Records’ newly released “An American Soldier’s Tale, Histoire du Soldat” list a number of names and places familiar to music lovers in the Syracuse community. The album, which features the American Chamber Winds and is the first recording of Kurt Vonnegut’s libretto written for the music by Igor Stravinsky, was recorded on the Syracuse University campus with a number of musicians and a production team from the Setnor School of Music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).

Conducted by David A. Waybright, the American Chamber Winds includes Setnor School faculty members Jill Coggiola on clarinet, Edward Castilano on bass and Michael Bull on percussion. The recording was produced by John M. Laverty, professor and director of University Bands, and was engineered, mixed and mastered by James S. Abbott, who is the Setnor School’s senior audio engineer as well as a faculty member.

“An American Soldier’s Tale” was recorded in May and September 2008 in the recording studio at SU’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive. Also featured on the album is “Suite from Histoire du Soldat for Clarinet, Violin and Piano,” which was recorded in May 2008 in VPA’s Rose and Jules R. Setnor Auditorium in Crouse College. This recording features Todd Reynolds on violin, Evan Ziporyn on clarinet and Andrew Russo on piano.

The idea to record “An American’s Soldier’s Tale” came to Laverty in 2005 after purchasing a signed copy of Vonnegut’s “Histoire du Soldat.”

“Like most musicians, I have had a lifelong love affair with Igor Stravinsky’s composition of the same title, so when I saw Vonnegut’s new libretto set to Stravinsky’s music, it immediately caught my attention,” writes Laverty in the album’s liner notes. “Although I had never seen or heard a performance of this particular American soldier’s story, I thought this might be something a larger audience might be interested in hearing.”

“Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale)” was composed by Stravinsky in 1918 as a theatrical work “to be read, played and danced.” The instrumentation is for violin, which is prominently featured, as well as clarinet, cornet, trombone, bassoon, percussion and double bass. The original libretto by Charles Ferdinand Ramuz calls for three spoken parts consisting of the Narrator, the Soldier and the Devil. The synopsis of the original libretto is based on a Russian folk tale involving a solitary traveling soldier (perhaps a deserter) who trades his fiddle to the devil for a book that could lead to great riches.

Vonnegut, famed American writer and World War II prisoner of war, was taken aback by the whimsical nature of the libretto when compared to the stark realities of war and the angular, brutal music of Stravinsky’s score. In 1993, at the request of Bob Johnson, conductor of New York Philomusica, Vonnegut wrote a new libretto for “Histoire du Soldat” based on the execution of American Private Eddie Slovik, the only soldier executed for desertion during World War II. Vonnegut’s libretto is loosely based on “The Execution of Private Slovik,” a nonfiction book by William Bradford Huie published in 1954. The resulting version is a highly controversial, yet entertaining, fusion of Stravinsky’s music and the edgy, abrupt Vonnegut text.

The Vonnegut/Stravinsky work has only been performed a few times; an international copyright dispute, which was settled in 1997, limited performances further.

For more information on the recording, visit http://www.summitrecords.com.

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