Château de l'âme

by Kaija Saariaho

Five Songs for Solo Soprano, Eight Female Voices and Orchestra, 1995

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Kaija Saariaho

Château de l'âme

Chester Music


The five-movement song cycle Château de l'âme is the first vocal work in which Saariaho has used an orchestra. The orchestral accompaniment is vivid and colourful but also consciously sparse, giving room to the expressive, expansive melodies of the soprano. The melodic element is more strongly emphasized than is usual in Saariaho's works. Château de l'âme was written for Dawn Upshaw, and during the composition process Saariaho worked with Upshaw in shaping the details of the voice part.

© Risto Nieminen, 1996

translated by © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

The texts of Château de l'âme are drawn from ancient Hindu and Egyptian sources. The first three come from L’Atharva Veda — a Veda intended for royal priests. La liane (sections 1 and 3), with reversed word order originates in the section ‘Love’s Magic’, consisting of phrases concerning the awakening and development of love between a man and a woman. A la terre is a collage of texts by Kaija Saariaho, named after a prayer of the same titte.

The last two sections of the work are based on Egyptian magic spells. Pour repousser l’esprit is a spell to push back a spirit and protect a child against illness. Les formules are extracts from spells used to heal children. The title Château de l'âme is taken from Saint Theresa of Avila (Château de l'âme or Le Livre des demeures).

The relationship between words and music is uniquely complex. Certain musical structures are dictated by the structure of the poetry, such as the refrain ‘et ne t’écarte pas de moi!’, which in La liane is always sung to the same melody by the soprano soloist. Within the second part there are certain remarkable similarities during the repetitions of ‘ce qui respire et vibre’ and ‘ta vaste terre’.

Different kinds of polyphonic words and phrasing develop between the solo soprano and the female voices. In the first section the female voices introduce the text by speaking certain sections of it at the opening. The opposite happens in the final section Les formules, where the female voices recall the beginning by shouting extracts of the first verse while the solo soprano sings and recites the second verse. With the exception of the third, central section, where the vocal ensemble is not involved, the relation between solo soprano and female chorus is at the heart of the score. The sounds of the words shape the work: phonemes sung by the soprano and female voices merge into the orchestral texture and are developed in the same way. Château de l’âme (1996) for soprano, eight female voices and orchestra is Saariaho’s first work for voice and orchestra [...].

[writer unknown]

(ISCM Festival, for the British premiere, Manchester April 23, 1998)


2222 2431 13 1, pno, str, sopr solo, 8 female voc


Vocal and Choral Works




Runoja Intiasta ja Egyptistä (san.)


Dawn Upshaw, soprano, Arnold Schönberg Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Esa-Pekka Salonen, Salzburg, August 10, 1996.


1. La liane, 2. A la terre, 3. La liane, 4. Pour repousser l'esprit, 5. Les formules

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the Salzburg Festival. Dedicated to the composer's daughter Aliisa and Dawn Upshaw.

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