Kaija Saariaho's path to the met: the merger of conventional and unconventional musical devices in L'amour de Loin
On December 1, 2016, the Metropolitan Opera presented Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin, the Met’s second production of a work by a female composer, and the first since Ethyl Smyth’s Der Wald in 1903. Although opera companies around the world regularly produce operas written within the last fifty years, new operas are a small percentage of their total productions. This document includes biographical information and educational background for the composer Kaija Saariaho. An evolution of her compositional style and artistic path to composing in the genre of opera is explored. The majority of the document examines the opera L’Amour de loin itself, focusing on its commissioning, libretto, compositional structure, and reception history. This document also illustrates how much of Saariaho’s success with her operas, especially L’Amour de Loin, lies in her incorporation of conventional operatic elements and musical devices, common in music since the seventeenth century, into her own contemporary musical language. Saariaho does not rely on functional harmony to provide forward motion within her music. Instead, in her combination of timbre, texture, and harmony (often non-diatonic and generally non-functional), she develops musical energy and direction by placing the highest priority on timbre or color for structural momentum. She also created specific motifs to signify the individual characters (similar to leitmotifs) and recurring musical gestures woven throughout the opera. She employs musical devices such as text painting, common to music throughout history, as well as musical genres such as the tarantella, a traditional dance. In fact, Saariaho has contributed to a resurgence of interest in new opera around the world and rearticulated an art form she once viewed as outdated. Her compositional style creates fields of sonorities focusing on timbre while using a combination of serial techniques, along with tonal context or pitch centers with spectral ideas. These techniques will be further discussed within the document. In essence, her work has defined a new multimedia art form recognized by major opera companies, including the Met.