Contributed by Christopher Sim (BMUS2, YST)
Kaija Anneli Saariaho is a contemporary Finnish composer of acoustic and electronic music. She began composing under her tutor Paavo Heininen at the Sibelius Academy at the age of 24. After graduating with a degree in music, she furthered her composition aspirations with stints in Germany, including the attendance of the Darmstadt summer course of 1982 to which she was taught by Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber. In 1982, Saariaho moved to France. There she joined the L’Institut de Recherche et Coordination (IRCAM) where she began exploring computer-assisted compositional methods. It was also around this time that she completed her first piece for orchestra and tape Verblendungen. Other works of the 80s included Lichtbogen for chamber ensemble and live-electronics, Io (1987) and Stilleben (1988) also for electronics. Saariaho also wrote extensively for opera which included works such as L’Amour de loin (2000), Adriana Mater (2005), La Passion de Simone (2006) and Émilie (2010). Overall, Saariaho’s musical output tends to feature large musical forces and mathematical complexity.
In 1984 Saariaho married French composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière with whom she had two children. It was during this period when she experienced her first bout of emotional upheaval during her pregnancy which ultimately became the basis of her work for piano, viola and cello: Je sens un deuxième coeur. Despite the 14 year gap between her first pregnancy and this work, Saariaho was reminded of her experience while composing the opera Adriana Mater in 2005 which was an opera on motherhood.
Je sens un deuxième coeur translates to ‘I feel a second heart’. The second heart is the child, and the five movements of this work delineate the phases of Saariaho’s emotional states. (The OpusNovus concert features movements IV and V.) Movement IV, titled Il faut que j’entre ‘I need to enter’ is a battle between the hearts. It is a violent showdown between the three instruments, with low piano ostinati, screeching viola chords and low cello runs emphasising the anger and frustrations coursing through Saariaho. Movement V, titled Je sens un deuxième coeur qui bat tout près du mien ‘I feel a second heart that beats close to mine’, however, is a calm, dragged out piece with long sustaining strings and rich juxtapositions of high and low ranges on the piano.
While Saariaho’s works are known for her combined use of electronics, large instrumental forces, Je sens un deuxième coeur is a work written only for three acoustic instruments. It is a piece that is not only more accessible to audiences and musicians alike, but one that is deeply personal for Saariaho.