Oltra mar

by Kaija Saariaho

Across the Sea

Seven Preludes for the New Millennium

Empty sheet

Kaija Saariaho

Oltra mar

Chester Music


Oltra mar, which means 'across the sea' in the ancient French language, is written for large orchestra and mixed choir. This work differs from my other large orchestral pieces (such as Du Cristal, my violin concerto Graal Théâtre, or my orchestral song cycle Château de l’âme) in its sectional structure, being divided into seven clearly separate parts.

Parts 1, 3, 5 and 7 are about travelling and about the sea, the origin of life. In these parts the choir sings without words as a part of the orchestral texture. These sea sections take us from one time/place/musical texture to another. Parts 2, 4 and 6 are called (in French) Love, Time and Death. The themes of love and death are connected to my forthcoming opera L'amour de loin, as is the idea of sea, and crossing the sea.

The three texts chosen for this work come from different times and places. The text I chose to represent love is written by an Arab poet, Abou Saîd, from the beginning of this millennium. The text for death is an excerpt from a traditional death song of the African pygmies. Finally, the text about time is a sentence from a novel called Samarcande, written by the contemporary French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, who also wrote the libretto for L'amour de loin, the opera I am composing at the moment.

The section on death is dedicated to the French composer Gérard Grisey, who suddenly died last November when I was working on this piece.

After having found the texts that suited my musical ideas, I rather freely wrote down the music, guided by my thoughts and experiences around these themes. The three texts are very different in their expression, but have one thing in common: they all speak in their way about the sky and the planets, as well as human feelings and ideas.

© Kaija Saariaho, 1999

(Chester Music Ltd.)

Across the sea, the origin of life, humanity travels from one continent to another throughout time, founding and burying cultures and languages, always carrying the two central mysteries of human life: love and death.

The title Oltra mar, ‘across the sea’, also points back to the last millennium, to the language and culture of Occitan. The three short texts, which I have chosen from different times and continents, are about love, time and death.

© Kaija Saariaho, 1999

(Chester Music Ltd.)

The texts:

I Départ

II Amour

Avant que fût posé l’arceau du ciel sublime, avant que fût fixé ce globe de cristal, alors que je dormais dans l’éternel néant, le trait de ton amour était tracé sur moi.

Abou Saîd, Robâ’is

III Vagues

IV Temps

Le temps a deux visages, il a deux dimensions,

la longueur est au rythme du soleil, l’épaisseur au rythme des passions.

Amin Maalouf, Samarcande

V Souvenir de vagues

VI Mort

in memory of Gérard Grisey

Le ciel s’est éclairé, les yeux se sont éteints, l’étoile resplendit.

L’homme a passé, l’ombre a disparu, le prisonnier est libre.

Pygmées, Complaintes mortuaires

VII Arrivée


4444 4441 13 1, pno, str, chx [3fl+afl,4fl+pic]


Vocal and Choral Works




SaŒd Abou (san.)Maalouf Amin (san.)PygméesComplaintes mortuaires (san.)


New York Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Kurt Masur, New York, November 11, 1999.


I Départ, II Amour, III Vagues, IV Temps, V Souvenir de vagues, VI Mort (in memory of Gérard Grisey), VII Arrivée

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

+ Add information

No sheet music available from Music Finland.