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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Terra Memoria (2006)
Chester Music Ltd
Small Ensemble (2-6 players)
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
20 Minutes
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Terra Memoria (2006)
Terra Memoria is my second piece for string quartet, the first being Nymphea which was written in 1987.

Twenty years have passed since Nymphea and my musical thinking has evolved much in that time, but my initial interest in string instruments has remained as vivid as ever. I love the richness and sensitivity of the string sound and, in spite of my spare contribution to the genre, I feel when writing for a string quartet that I'm entering into the intimate core of musical communication.

The piece is dedicated "for those departed". Some thoughts about this: we continue remembering the people who are no longer with us; the material - their life - is "complete", nothing will be added to it. Those of us who are left behind are constantly reminded of our experiences together: our feelings continue to change about different aspects of their personality, certain memories keep on haunting us in our dreams. Even after many years, some of these memories change, some remain clear flashes which we can relive.

These thoughts brought me to treat the musical material in a certain manner; some aspects of it go through several distinctive transformations, whereas some remain nearly unchanged, clearly recognizable.

The title Terra Memoria refers to two words which are full of rich associations: to earth and memory. Here earth refers to my material, and memory to the way I'm working on it.


Sample Pages

  • Ensemble
    Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra
    Karen Vourc'h
    Marko Letonja
“invention curbed and directed by the imagination of this eminently gifted composer absorbing concert”
Robert Matthew-Walker , Classical,18/10/2014
In Saariaho's Terra Memoria, the way in which some recollections remain fixed and unchanging, while others transform over time, provides the raison d'etre. The piece is full of beautifully imagined string textures.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,13/05/2011
The instrumental lines circle one another, giving the impression of a steady dance, but an angry one: the notes are frequently pushed into harsh, distorted sounds as the bows scrape up the strings. The music is underpinned by a gentle pulse in the form of two plucked notes like a heartbeat; this lets up only at the climax, when its absence is unsettling. Dedicated to "those departed", the piece is the more effective for the way its emotion is contained.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian,14/11/2007
"Terra memoria," a masterful new 15-minute string quartet by Finnish-born Kaija Saariaho. She is, quite simply, one of the most original compositional voices of our time. She has taken this venerable form and made it sound new, drawing a ceaseless variety of skewed sounds from the four instruments. Unlike Dmitri Shostakovich, who also sought a kind of beautiful ugliness, Saariaho is going less for the harsh or violent and more for something otherworldly. It is sometimes eerie but always alluring, even poetic in its way. The four instruments often seem to function as four distinct voices. Rather than progressing in some linear way, the music seems to turn into itself, with melodic motifs that bend and swell and recur in a circular fashion.
Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post,27/06/2007
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