At the heart of my library is a shelf filled, in no particular order, with my favorite books. Surrounding this shelf, in perfect order, are my books on music and all the other books. I come back to the shelf with my favorite books every time I want to take a retrospective look at my life. I choose books that are dear to me, I flip through them and reread them while paying attention to the feelings they arouse in me: what has changed?

In my childhood, poetry captivated me above all, and when I seriously began to set down on paper the music that came to me, this music often took form thanks to a poem. I felt particularly close to the poet Edith Södergran. Her collection Runoja (Poems), collected by Lauri Viljanen from the poems he translated from Swedish to Finnish, was one of my nightstand books until adolescence. When I began to read Södergran’s poems in Swedish, the colors and the rhythm of the original text inspired me in a new way and, around some of them, musical ideas were created in my mind. As a result, in 1977, I created a small collection of songs titled Bruden. One of the songs’ first verses described the collection rather well: “I am nothing but infinite will, infinite will, but to what end, to what end?” These words came from the poem “My Life, My Death, and My Fate.” This was my first “serious” composition. Aside from these songs, which I composed ten years ago, when I was still a student, I didn’t compose any other music based on Södergran’s texts. These poems, for me, were part of my childhood, which I couldn’t and didn’t want to touch again. They encouraged me while I was trying to find a path and a goal for my ideas. When I read them again today, these poems which once transported me now bring back these feelings from my childhood. I’m surprised to realize that, after that point, there wasn’t any possibility of transforming poems into music, and that I had already set that aside in the interest of developing an abstract musical language.

Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a novel where creative intelligence and complex metaphors combined, reflects particularly well what I was looking for in my music. The richness of her language escapes simplistic interpretation and I asked myself how to achieve a similarly prismatic language in music. This question was amplified by my reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; I was more and more interested by the exactitude of language. I still remember those sunlit April days when, recovering from a throat infection, I savored Swann’s love while telling myself: I don’t want to come to the end. Behind me, I heard Pierre Boulez’s Structures II, which, aside from those few days, I have never appreciated. The cold intelligence of this music mixed with Proust’s text, and the text illuminated Boulez’s French world in a new way, by giving him the heat that had otherwise been missing.

This idea of a synthesis between language and sound became a goal. This goal was to develop an abstract reflection and, by means of this reflection, gain control over my sensibility, and gain equilibrium between the mind and the heart.


To read the entire collection of Kaija Saariaho's essays, purchase your copy of Music & Literature no. 5 . . .