Quatre Instants (orchestral version)

Commissioned by the Tammisaari Music Festival and the Leipzig Gewandhaus.

Work Notes Dedicated to Karita Mattila and Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Publisher Chester Music Ltd
Category Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed  2002
Duration 23 Minutes
Soloist Soprano
Orchestration 2222/2000/perc.timp/hp.cel/str(
Availability Hire

Programme Note
Quatre Instants (orchestral version) (2002)

Quatre instants was born from Karita Mattila’s desire to have a new work to perform at recitals she was giving at the Châtelet Theatre and Barbican Centre in April 2003. From my initial discussions with her, and knowing the vastly expressive spectrum of her voice, I immediately had a clear idea of the feelings that I wanted this work to evoke. I imagined a whole section of music built of contrasting images, sub-sections of which would be compressed into short but powerful moments. This reflection also gave the work its title: ‘Four Instants’. The fact that these instants are associated with different faces of love is without doubt connected with the fact that I have seen Karita playing the role of a loving woman in so many opera productions.

The cycle was originally written for soprano and piano. Trying to extract the colours I had in my mind from the piano, and at the same time adapting its vast expressive scale to the diminutive vocal lines, reminded me of the work of a jeweller, who, with the help of a loop, creates rich, microscopic details. I had always planned to make an orchestral version of these songs, yet when I finally did, it was not so easy because, in reducing everything onto the piano, I had tried hard not think in orchestral terms. But I wanted in the new version to achieve the same very clear, bright sound as in the original, and I’m pleased that, because this version was made for a Classical-sized orchestra rather than a big Romantic one, it retains some of the piano version’s chamber-music feel, so that the phrases we hear from the orchestral instruments – from the wind, and so on – are, in a way, in dialogue with the singer. The two versions are not completely similar, however: there are tiny differences of details. In the original, for example, the singer starts the third song, while here it begins with a phrase on the flute. In both versions, though, the instrumental writing is integral to the overall texture and not just an accompaniment to the singing. Rather, it is a musical extension of the text that sometimes develops several musical ideas simultaneously.

Since Karita and I are both from Finland, I first researched texts in our native language but I couldn’t find anything that suited my musical ideas. I then contacted Amin Maalouf, whose texts I had worked with for previous projects, and asked him to suggest some to me. Amin gave me some short texts, from which I chose three, and I then asked him to write a fourth text based on the first three. It is this text that closes the cycle: in it the singer returns to the atmosphere of anticipation that is set at the beginning, but now her mind is full of memories. The apparent simplicity of Amin’s texts gives space for music. The words and short phrases are codes which hide a rich world of sensations, colours and fragrances.

Kaija Saariaho