For more than a year I have wanted to write about Kaija Saariaho, a contemporary Finnish composer. My reverence for living composers made me hesitate initially. But I did it anyway and actually, it was fun. Saariaho was born in 1952 and studied at the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), a research institute founded by Pierre Boulez to promote musical and acoustical studies. IRCAM was and still is an incubator for many modern compositions.
The Finnish composer sympathized for some time with the post-serialism modernist, but developed at some point her own style. Her credo: “Everything is permissible as long as it’s done in good taste”. She wrote works for orchestra, chamber music and vocal pieces. While at the beginning of her career as a composer she did not hesitate to make ample use of electronics, her late pieces are composed for classical instruments only.
For more than a year I brooded on how to write about Saariaho’s music. It got me nowhere and I decided to settle for a poem.
Notes on Light
Blinding light, infinite, white.
Cracking ice, the throw of a dice.
Do you feel how you breeze, how you freeze?
Consuming desire is but a cold fire,
The pursuit of fame a flickering flame.
Why would you care about ephemeral things?
Icy air at the pole, you are on your own.
The open sea is close, 500 miles at most,
Your illusion is to be free to flee.
Death is dressed in white, in pure light,
Soon you will sleep, no one will weep.
Are you afraid to be equal to us?
Destiny – our link to eternity,
You have a date with your ultimate fate.
Why postpone what inevitably must come?
The structure of the poem corresponds to the five movements of Saariaho’s cello concert “Notes on Light” written in 2006. A truly meditative piece. A fascinating array of orchestral sound surfaces with the soloist given the chance to show its full power of expression. “When the soloist has important things to say, the orchestra gives it space and on the other hand the orchestra also gets its moments to lift the music up into exuberant colour”, the Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, who has recorded the piece with the Orchestre de Paris, once said.
My poem reflects the images that crossed my mind when I listened to “Notes on Light”. Saariaho enclosed the following quotation from T. S. Elliot’s poem “The Waste Land” in the score:
“… I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.”
© Charles Thibo