Sept papillons
Works for cello by Kaija Saariaho

Works for cello

Programme notes

Notes on Light


































































 Kaija Saariaho and Anssi Karttunen started their working together in the early 1980's and their collaboration has been the origin of one of the most important bodies of work for cello of the 20th century.

Apart from five pieces for solo cello, Saariaho has written four concertante works and numerous chamber music pieces. Anssi Karttunen was involved in the world premieres of most of these pieces.

This collaboration is a living proof of how an interpreter and composer can grow together pushing each other into directions that would have been unimaginable in other circumstances.

The most recent additions to this repertoire are the Cello Concerto "Notes on Light" (2006) and "Mirage" (2007) for Soprano, Cello and Orchestra.

Pieces for cello:

Solo cello:
Petals, with optional electronics
Près, with electronics
Spins and Spells
Sept Papillons
.. à la Fumée, for cello, alto flute and orchestra
Amers, for cello and ensemble
Notes on light, for cello and orchestra
Mirage, for soprano, cello and orchestra
Chamber music:
Jing, soprano and cello
Im traume, cello and piano
Nymphéa, String Quartet
Gates, flute, cello and harpsichord
Oi kuu, bass clarine (or bass flute) and cello
Cendres, flute, cello and piano
Neiges, eight cellos
Changing Light, soprano and cello
Je sens un deuxième coeur, viola cello and piano
Terra memoria, String Quartet
Serenatas, cello, percussion and piano


Programme notes for the solo cello pieces:

"Petals" (1988), for cello and live electronics.

"Petals" (1988) for solo cello was written fast in only a few days, but evidently after a long unconscious preparation. The material comes directly from Nymphea for string quartet and electronics. The name of the piece is derived from this relationship.

The opposite elements here are fragile, coloristic passages which give birth to more energetic events with clear rhythmic and melodic character. These more sharply focused figures pass through different transformations, and finally merge back to less dynamic but not less intensive filigration. In bringing together these very opposite modes of expressions I aimed to force the interpreter to stretch his sensibility.

Petals was inspired by the playing of Anssi Karttunen and is dedicated to him. The first performance was at the Musica Nova festival in Bremen the 19th of May 1988.

"Près" (1991), for cello and live electronics.

Près for solo cello and electronics emerged at the same time as Amers, a concerto for cello and chamber orchestra. The musical material in the two works is to a large extent the same. Given the very different means of implementing the material, however, the only identical elements are certain parts for the solo instrument and few of the electronic sound material. In terms of form and dramatic structure the pieces are strikingly different. Both were produced at IRCAM, and the electronic component is very important in each case. In Près the electronics continue and expand the musical gestures of the solo instrument.

Près is in three movements. The first movement concentrates on a rather linear texture, in which the cello part is in places fused with the synthetic sounds. This material is based on recordings that I made with Anssi Karttunen and subsequently either analyzed and used as the starting point for the work's harmony and sound synthesis, or transformed in different ways.

The synthetic element is realized using resonant filters that also operate in real time in the succeeding movements, where the cello sound is modified on a music workstation developed at IRCAM.

As a whole the electronic element consists of synthetic sounds, modified cello sounds stored in the computer, and real-time sound processing. This latter element has made use of resonating filters and different types of delay-, space-, filtering-, and transposing techniques. The programming work was realized by Xavier Chabot and Jean-Baptiste Barrière at IRCAM.

The name of the piece links it to its sister-work (Amers - a nautical term for leading marks or landmarks), as well as Paul Gauguin's painting By the Sea, and hence to the experience of the sea itself and waves, their different rhythms and sounds, stormy weather and calms. In other words: material, wave shapes, rhythmic figures, timbres. The charging up of the music and the ultimate release of that charge.

Près is dedicated to Anssi Karttunen, whose collaboration on the work led to its completion and who gave the first performance in Strasbourg on November 11th 1992.

"Spins and Spells" (1997), for cello solo

The title of this piece refers to the two gestures that are the basis of the piece: on one hand the motives I call "Spins", turning on themselves or going through transformations and, on the other hand, timeless moments, centered on colors and sound textures.

The whole piece develops around or between these two gestures. I have chosen to tune the cello in an unusual way in order to personalize the harmonic language: the fifths are here replaced by structures that favor major sixths and minor thirds.

Marked by this scordatura, the sonority of Spins and Spells reminds me of the music and instrumental colors of another time, well before the times of the cello that we know today, albeit seen through and transformed by my own universe.

 "Sept Papillons" (2000), for cello solo

"Sept papillons" was the first piece Saariaho wrote after her opera "L'Amour de loin" , it was written during the rehearsal period of the opera in Salzburg. One can sense the desire to find a world which has nothing to to do with the opera neither in style nor in language. From the metaphors of the opera which all have an eternal quality - love, yearning and death - she moved now to a metaphor of the ephemeral: butterfly. Still, the opera is present in one or two melodic passages of the piece.

Also, from the long time-spans of the opera she moved to these seven miniatures, which each seem to be studies on a different aspect of fragile and ephemeral movement that has no beginning nor end.

"Sept papillons" was commissioned by the Rudolf Steiner foundation and was first performed in Helsinki in September 2000.

"Etincelles" (2007), for cello solo

"Etincelles" was written as a 30th birthday present for the French cellist Alexis Descharmes, who celebrated his birthday by performing 30 new pieces for cello in the Cité de la Musique in Paris. This short piece has 30 measures which come more or less directly from the second movement -"On fire" - of "Notes on light" .While it obviously is strongly related to the original piece it also has its own personality beyond a simple birthday tribute.