Timbral Intention: Examining the Contemporary Performance Practice and Techniques of Kaija Saariaho’s Vocal Music

Public Deposited

Kaija Saariaho’s vocal music offers singers a rewarding challenge. Her works contain extended techniques and innovative performance practices, which allow her to create interesting and moving timbral effects. Her musical language has its foundation in her cultural identity, formed when she was a girl in the forests of Finland. The sounds of the woods, birdsong, whispering, and wind are integral parts of Saariaho’s musical voice. Her creative use of text setting results in a highly emotional and unusual expression of poetry, although unconventional manipulation of words necessitates some extra effort on the part of the performer. The extended techniques in her music are likewise emotionally-driven, and include methods of fine variation in breathiness, pitch, and vibrato to create a wide palette of vocal sounds. Her use of electronics also allows her to write meaningful music with a unique musical atmosphere. In collaboration with singers Saariaho has proven to be extremely approachable and supportive, both when coaching performers of her work and developing new pieces with colleagues. Saariaho’s vocal music is more straightforward and less complex than her work for solo instruments in her use of rhythm and pitch collections; however, her innovative text setting and embracing of the wide sonic spectrum of the human voice results in a very colorful and deep musical language. As the first female composer to have an opera performed at the New York Metropolitan in over a hundred years, she is now an established and lauded composer of vocal music. It is my hope that this project will encourage singers who are unfamiliar with Saariaho to perform her work.

Last modified
  • 02/02/2018
Date created
Resource type
  • Voice Performance and Literature
Rights statement