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About this Piece

Composed: 2001

Length: 30 minutes

Orchestration: 4 flutes (2nd = alto flute, 3rd = piccolo, 4th = piccolo and alto flute), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (bass drum, crotales, frame drum, glass chimes, glockenspiel, marimba, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, vibraphone, xylophone), timpani, 2 harps, piano, strings, solo soprano, and solo baritone

First Los Angeles Philharmonic
(West Coast premiere)

Gottfried von Strassburg, the German poet whose 20,000 line (but unfinished) Tristan was the principal narrative source for Wagner, flourished about 50 years after one of the greatest French troubadours, Jaufre Rudel. Rudel was famous in his own time, and far beyond, for his poems addressed to a distant love (amour de loin in modern French). According to later sources, he fell in love with the Countess of Tripoli solely on second-hand praises of her beauty and good works. He wrote many songs about her and eventually set sail to meet her. At sea he became sick and he arrived in Tripoli unconscious and dying. The countess came to the inn where he had been placed and took him in her arms, reviving him sufficiently for a mutual declaration of love. He died and the countess entered a convent in grief.

This romanticized biography became the basis for Saariaho's five-act opera L'Amour de loin, which had a well-received premiere at the Salzburg Festival in August 2000 and has since traveled successfully to other stages. In 2001 Saariaho and her librettist Amin Maalouf created a suite or song cycle for soprano, baritone, and orchestra of Cinq reflets (Five Reflections) that parallel the course of the opera. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the premiere of Cinq reflets in November 2002.

This suite draws on material from the opera, but not in the form of direct excerpts. Saariaho recombined some ideas from the opera and also composed new material for this more abstract look at the subject of idealized love. Saariaho's style comes much closer to Debussy's model than to Wagner's, particularly in her scrupulous text-setting and shimmery scoring. Like Debussy, Saariaho gives almost every syllable a single note, and she carefully indicates rising or falling inflections with quick microtonal glissandos at the end of some words.

The principal exception to the "one note, one syllable" rule is the third song, "L'Amour de loin," which is a setting of one of Rudel's own poems. Four of Rudel's songs actually survive with music, and here Saariaho clearly suggests the modality, the ornamentation, and the narrow, tightly wound melodies of the troubadour's music.

Elsewhere, Saariaho deliberately blurs the sound world. Trills, tremolos, and glissandos abound, and she loves to get short figures going simultaneously in different meters and at different speeds. Saariaho uses some gestures and fragments as identifying motifs within a song - listen to the soprano's entrance in the second song on "Ton amour" and how it returns with varied articulations - and throughout the cycle.

The form of the suite is a large arch. Movements one and five are meditative reflections for the soprano, movements two and four are impassioned duets, and at the center lies that haunting troubador distillation, as though it were a lyric stone dropped into a sonic pool and the other songs its ripples.

- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.