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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Stilleben (1988)
commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company
Text Writer
collage (Franz Kafka, Paul Éluard, Wassily Kandinsky)
Edition Wilhelm Hansen, Helsinki
Electroacoustic Works
Year Composed
Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Stilleben (1988)

Kaija Saariaho has said that one of the crucial insights underlying the radiophonic work STILLEBEN (Still Life, 1987-88) came to her while sitting in a train. As darkness falls, the landscape outside fades from view and the passenger's face begins to show in the window. This poetic experience points two ways with regard to STILLEBEN: firstly, to the gradual processes of change so important to many of Saariaho's works; and secondly, to the fundamental themes of STILLEBEN. According to Saariaho, STILLEBEN is about travelling, distance and communication between people separated from one another or from their homeland. It is easy to imagine that there is something very autobiographical in this theme for Saariaho, a Finn living in Paris and doing a lot of travelling.
STILLEBEN was commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company. It received a prize in the radiophonic works category in the Prix Italia competition in 1988, and in the following year it received the Ars Electronica prize. A 'radiophonic' work is a special kind of taped work that, as the name says, is designed to be played on radio, not in concert. Its means vary, but usually it is something between a radio play and electronic music.
True to the nature of radiophonic works, STILLEBEN contains a variety of material: speech in three languages (Finnish, German, French), singing, instrumental music (including extracts from LICHTBOGEN), various concrete sounds for example from metro stations, and various types of acoustics. The texts are from letters by Franz Kafka discussing the effect of separation on communication; Saariaho has also used the poetry of Paul Eluard and artist Wassily Kandinsky. Saariaho approaches this rich and varied material more as a composer than as a storyteller. In fact, the work does not come across as a clear plot structure; rather, it involves associations awakened by various situations and moods, a sort of poetry in sound that has themes and content but not precisely defined meanings.
contact for performance electronics

  • Ensemble
    John Whitfield
  • Ensemble
    Avanti! Chamber Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello / Jukka Tiensuu, harpsichord
    Jukka-Pekka Saraste
The instrumental music in STILLEBEN is reminiscent of LICHTBOGEN, for the simple reason that it takes use in parts of the recording of LICHTBOGEN supplemented by episodes for choir. In character STILLEBEN is, however, quite different from LICHTBOGEN, which is treated as just one material among many. The piece has a strong drive carrying it forwards. Even during the very first seconds the sound of an underground train issuing from the loudspeakers forces the listener to climb aboard for a journey through rapidly-changing scenery. In actual fact he does not move an inch, for as the composer says, 'Despite the abundance and movement of the material, the basic idea was one of a moment…I wanted to stop the moment and examine everything that may be embraced by the twinkling of an eye - all the layers of thought, reception, seeing and hearing'.
Risto Nieminen, trans. Susan Sinisalo, ,01/01/0001
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