Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 4(pic,afl).4.4.4/
  • SATB
  • 22 min
  • Amin Maalouf; Abou Said
  • French

Programme Note

Oltra Mar, which means “across the sea” in the ancient French language, is written for large orchestra and mixed choir. The work differs from my other large orchestral pieces (such as Du cristal…, my violin concerto Graal Théâtre, or my orchestral song cycle Chateau de l’ Âme) in its sectional structure, being divided onto 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 the second 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


Oltra mar (Across the Sea): I. Depart (Departure)
Oltra mar (Across the Sea): II. Amour (Love)
Oltra mar (Across the Sea): III. Vagues (Waves)
Oltra mar (Across the Sea): IV. Temps (Time)
Oltra mar (Across the Sea): V. Souvenir de vagues (Memory of the Waves)
Oltra mar (Across the Sea): VI. Mort (In memory of Gerard Grisey)
Oltra mar (Across the Sea): VII. Arrivee (Arrival)


Preview the score


  • Kaija Saariaho’s Poetic Montages
    • Kaija Saariaho’s Poetic Montages
    • From the very beginning of her career as a composer, Kaija Saariaho has turned to poetry as a material and inspiration for her music. The forms and logics of poetry have played a defining role in her output since then.



More Info