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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Château de l'âme (1996)
commissioned by Betty Freeman and Gérard Mortier for the 1996 Salzburg Festival
Work Notes
dedicated to the composer's daughter Aliisa and Dawn Upshaw
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
22 Minutes

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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Château de l'âme (1996)
Château de l'Âme sets texts from the Hinduism and Ancient Egyptian traditions. The first three sections come from Artharva Veda, one of the books of Veden, fundamental to the spiritualistic tradition of Hinduism. La liane (with reversed verse order in section 3) concerns the love between a man and a woman - its birth, continuation and constant renewal. A la terre, a collage of texts by Saariaho, is named after a Vedic prayer of the same title. The last two sections are based on Egyptian magic spells: Pour repousser l'esprit is a spell "to push back a spirit", and Les formules are extracts from spells used to heal children. The title Château de l'Âme comes from Saint Theresa of Avila's work of the same title.

The relationship between words and music in Château de l'Âme is a uniquely complex one. At one level, certain immanent structures in the poems are reflected in the music, such as the refrain "et ne t'écarte pas de moi!", which in La liane is sung always with the same melody by the solo soprano. Further to this, the ever-changing polyphony between soloist and chorus (with the notable exception of the central section, where the chorus is silent) shapes the work structurally and musically. At the opening of the work, for example, the chorus introduces the text by speaking certain parts of it prior to the entry of the solo soprano, a texture which is mirrored in Les formules where they shout brief extracts of the first verse whilst the soloist sings and recites the second verse. The very sound of the words shape the work: phonemes sung by the solo soprano and female voices merge into the orchestral texture and are developed in a similar fashion.

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  • Ensemble
    Avanti! Orchestra / Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Kattunen, cello / Dawn Upshaw, sorprano / Gidon Kremer, violin
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Sony Music:
The extraordinary and the magical are…something quite apart. They are moments that rest in the memory for a very long time. What is surprising is that one of those moments should have happened during a world premiere. Kaija Saariaho (born in 1952) is a Finnish composer whose Château de l'âme (title inspired by St Teresa of Avila) forms a serene and intimate unity of imperishable music. The five songs last almost 30 minutes, and the soprano (Dawn Upshaw), eight female voices (the impeccable intonation of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir), and orchestra gave a performance that passed like a sigh, evidence of a profound communication, all supported by melody from our time and with a measured, sensitive and knowledgeable orchestration: Saariaho acknowledges the influences of Tarkovski or Canetti. Not bad company. Her marvellous Salzburg piece was received with amazement and gratitude by an enraptured audience.
Juan Angel Vela del Campo, El Pais,01/08/1996
"The basic thematic materials are as sparse and elegant as an ascending or descending scale. The orchestration, shot through with trills, gives the music an ecstatic shimmer. The soprano is backed up not only by the orchestra but by an ensemble of eight female voices that extend the range of effects in clusters of sound that hover around the vocal line like a cloud. There is a New Age dimension to the piece, but there is far more texture, density, intelligence, and emotion in this music than in some of its popular counterparts."
Richard Dyer, Boston Globe,01/01/0001
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