Kaija Saariaho : Laterna Magica

“Cendres” for alto flute, violoncello and piano

‘Tag des Jahrs’ (2002)




Kaija Saariaho (Finnish: [ˈkɑi̯jɑ ˈsɑːriɑho]; née Laakkonen, born 14 October 1952) is a Finnish composer.

Kaija Saariaho studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived since 1982. Her studies and research at IRCAM have had a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining live music and electronics. Although much of her catalogue comprises chamber works, from the mid-nineties she has turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures, such as the opera L’amour de loin, premiered at the 2000 Salzburg Festival[1] (with a US premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 2002), and Oltra mar for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic. Her second opera, Adriana Mater, was commissioned for the Opéra National de Paris’ 2006 season. Her second string quartet, Terra Memoria, was commissioned for the Emerson Quartet by Carnegie Hall for a June 2007 premiere. The third opera, Émilie, has the life and death of Émilie du Châtelet as its topic. The librettist of all of the three operas is Amin Maalouf.

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La Creation du Monde by Darius Milhaud, performed by the Miami University Wind Ensemble and conducted by Sheridan Monroe.

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Liszt first heard Paganini in April 1831 and was so entranced by the unfettered expressiveness of his playing, and Paganini’s ability to use his legendary technical ability for purely musical ends, that the young Liszt immediately declared his intention of achieving upon the piano an equivalent new technical mastery in order to unleash musical thoughts which had remained hitherto inexpressible.
Liszt and Schumann (who both rated Paganini very highly as a composer) began the trend of writing pieces on Paganini’s themes in 1831/2: Schumann first with a sketched work for piano and orchestra, and then his first set of six Studies (opus 3) on Paganini’s Caprices, and then Liszt following with his Grande fantaisie de bravoure sur ‘La clochette’ (S.420) based upon the third movement of Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto. Schumann later wrote a second set of six piano studies (opus 10), and then at the end of his creative life produced piano accompaniments to Paganini’s Caprices (an accomplishment later echoed by Karol Szymanowski). Liszt wrote a set of six studies in 1838 (S.140), sketched a further fantasy [combining the ‘Clochette’ theme with the Carnaval de Venise] in 1845 (S.700), and rewrote the six studies into their commonly-known final version in 1851 (S.141).

Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1, were composed during the early years of the 19th century, and were published in 1820. They pay homage to a like-named work by Pietro Locatelli, and were of incalculable influence upon whole generations of violinists, and —just as importantly— composers. They form the basis for all but one of Liszt’s Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini, and Liszt remains very faithful to Paganini’s text. (It is interesting that, although these works are really transcriptions, they are always catalogued and published as original Liszt works. Certainly there is a wealth of original thinking in what Liszt wrote, but the basic material and structure remain Paganini’s.) Liszt dedicated the 1838 set of studies to Clara Schumann and —typical of his generosity and magnanimity— went on happily to dedicate the 1851 set to her as well, in spite of her carping ingratitude (see note to Etude No. 1, below).

Paganini’s 24th caprice is certainly the best known, or at least its theme is, since it has been widely employed by so many other composers for variations of their own. Paganini wrote eleven variations and a coda, and Liszt sticks to this plan in both editions of his sixth study. The differences between the two Liszt pieces are too many to be enumerated here; the second version is not as monumentally treacherous as the first, and the textures vary enormously — especially in Variation IX with its different attempts to compensate for the wondrous effect of left-hand pizzicato on the violin.

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