Brussels Philharmonic | Terra Memoria: Ashes to ashes | programme…

Terra Memoria

Ashes to Ashes

Kaija Saariaho dedicated her second string quartet, Terra Memoria (2006), to those who are no longer with us. Not too long ago, we fondly reminisced about our loved ones, sipping joyously from our glasses, sometimes embellishing those stories with laughter. But it’s the laughter and tears alone that fill the void they left at the table. Their story, writes the Finnish composer, has been told, and nothing more is added to it. In our thoughts, however, they continue to live on. Some memories of them remain vivid, while others fade or even change. Something tangible becomes intangible, influenced by time and by our experiences.

In Terra Memoria, Saariaho applies this idea to the way she handles the musical material. She reflects on her own musical language, in which timbre and texture take center stage. Recognizable elements include trills (rapid alternations with an adjacent pitch), tremolos (fast repetitions of the same note), short glissandos (the sliding from one pitch to another), and the exploration of the spectrum between pure sounds and complex noise using various bowing techniques: close to the bridge (sul ponticello), over the fingerboard (sul tasto), or by applying increasing pressure on the bow. Throughout Terra Memoria, various musical events unfold. Some elements remain unchanged, while others undergo numerous transformations. In the last two minutes, for example, the initial melody from the first violins, now appear in the violas and within a completely different sonic landscape: the dynamics, texture, and timbre of the surrounding strings evolved throughout the piece. Yet, with the reemergence of that initial melody, an immediately familiar feeling is invoked. The circle is complete.

The beginning and end of things have always intrigued Saariaho. By connecting the start and finish, she not only strengthens the perception of individual musical events within the piece as a part of the whole but also emphasises how these different parts seem to emerge from nothing and then disappear back into nothingness, a void, as if they have been there in the background for a while and never fully extinguish. The musical material repeatedly returns to its fundamentals, to the point from which everything originated. From ashes to ashes.

* Brussels Philharmonic performs Saariaho's version of Terra Memoria for string orchestra (2009)