The role of women composers in the evolution of classical music is often underappreciated. The reason is obvious: classical music spanned a period in history when women did not possess many rights and freedoms. This fall the Metropolitan Opera is hosting its first opera by a woman since 1903. Kaia Saariaho is cracking that glass ceiling.
Here is her story:
Saariaho was born in Helsinki. She studied at the Sibelius Academy under Paavo Heininen. After attending the Darmstadt Summer Courses she moved to Germany to study at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg under Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber. She found her teachers’ emphasis on strict serialism and mathematical structures stifling, saying in an interview, “You were not allowed to have pulse, or tonally oriented harmonies, or melodies. I don’t want to write music through negations. Everything is permissible as long as it’s done in good taste.”
In 1980 Saariaho went to the Darmstadt Summer Courses and attended a concert of the French spectralists Tristan Murail and Gerard Grisey. Hearing spectral music for the first time marked a profound shift in Saariaho’s artistic direction and these experiences guided her decision to attend courses in computer-music that were being given by IRCAM the computer music research institute in Paris. In 1982 she began work at IRCAM researching computer analyses of the sound-spectrum of individual notes produced by different instruments. She developed techniques for computer-assisted composition, experimented with musique concrète, and wrote her first pieces combining live performance with electronics. She also composed new works using IRCAM’s CHANT synthesiser. Three of her pieces are grouped under the same title because they were each developed with CHANT: Jardin secret I (1985), Jardin secret II (1986) and Nymphea (Jardin secret III) (1987). Her works with electronics were developed in collaboration with Jean-Baptiste Barrière, a composer, multimedia artist and computer scientist who directed the IRCAM’s department of musical research from 1984-1987.
In Paris Saariaho developed an emphasis on slow transformations of dense masses of sound. Her first tape piece, Vers Le Blanc from 1982, and her orchestral and tape work, Verblendungen, are both constructed from a single transition: in Ver Le Blanc the transition is from one pitch cluster to another, and in Verblendungen, it is from loud to quiet. Verblendungen also uses a pair of visual ideas as its basis: a brush stroke which starts as a dense mark on the page and thins out into individual strands, and the word Verblendungen itself, which means “dazzlement”.
Her work in the 1980s and 1990s was marked by an emphasis on timbre and the use of electronics alongside traditional instruments. Nymphéa (Jardin secret III) (1987), for example, is for string quartet and live electronics and contains an additional vocal element: the musicians whisper the words of an Arseny Tarkovsky poem, Now Summer is Gone. In writing Nymphea, Saariaho used a fractal generator to create material. Writing about the compositional process, Saariaho wrote, “In preparing the musical material of the piece, I have used the computer in several ways. The basis of the entire harmonic structure is provided by complex cello sounds that I have analysed with the computer. The basic material for the rhythmic and melodic transformations are computer-calculated in which the musical motifs gradually convert, recurring again and again.”
She has often talked about having a kind of synaesthesia, which is a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense triggers other senses. Saariaho’s synaesthesia involves all of the senses, and she has said, “…the visual and the musical world are one to me… Different senses, shades of colour, or textures and tones of light, even fragrances and sounds blend in my mind. They form a complete world in itself.”
Saariaho has been married to French composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière since 1982.
Kaia’s opera L’Amour de Loin, a story of a Christian and a Muslim swept up in idealized assumptions about each other will be performed this fall at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. It will be conducted by Susanna Maliki.
KAIJA SAARIAHO YOU ROCK!
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BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION FOR THIS POST WAS SUPPLIED BY WIKIPEDIA.