Superposition in Kaija Saariaho’s ‘The claw of the magnolia….’

Author: Roeder, John

Publication details: Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music from 1960-2000, edited by Laurel Parsons, and Brenda Ravenscroft, 156-175. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Oxford Scholarship Online, 2016.


Abstract: Kaija Saariaho’s From the Grammar of Dreams, for two solo female singers, elegantly articulates the poetic structure of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Paralytic” by variations of rhythmic density and register; changes of pitch, intervals, and rhythmic behavior; and an arch-shaped tessitura. Its most striking feature, though, is its “polyvocality,” in which the voices simultaneously sing the same words to very different rhythms and pitches. This essay examines the multiple senses of musical time and space created by the shifting metrical and tonal relationships between the voices. As they imitate, synchronize, and diverge, two distinct concurrent points of reference—two equally present tonalities, and the coexistence of multiple meters—emerge that artfully portray the poem’s symbolic superposition of life and death.