• Kaija Saariaho
  • Nymphéa (1987)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Helsinki (World)

Commissioned by the Lincoln Center and Doris & Myron Beigler for the Kronos Quartet

  • String quartet & electronics (see below for details)
  • 18 min

Programme Note

For full information on the electronics, please see 'more info'.

In Nymphéa (Water lily, 1987) for string quartet and electronics, my aim was to broaden the colours of string instruments and create music by contrasting limpid, delicate textures and violent, shattering masses of sound.
The basis of the harmonic structure is provided by cello sounds that I analysed with the computer, through the use of some personal computer programs. The musical material is going through rhythmic and melodic transformations as the motifs are gradually converted from a trill into arpeggios, or unisono rhythms into multilayered micropolyphony. The electronic component of the piece consists of live transformations of the string quartet's sounds in the concert.

Some images that evolved in my mind while composing: the symmetric structure of a water lily, yielding as it floats on the water, transforming. Different interpretations of the same image in different dimensions; a one-dimensional surface with its colours, shapes, and, on the other hand, different materials that can be sensed, forms, dimensions, a white water lily feeding from the underwater mud.

A poem by Arseny Tarkovsky - the cineast Andrei Tarkovsky's father - also became a part of the sonic material during the compostion. It appears gradually, first in separate phonems whispered by players, adding thus a vocal color to the palette of string sounds:

Now Summer is gone
And might never have been.
In the sunshine it's warm,
But there has to be more.

It all came to pass,
All fell into my hands
Like a five-petalled leaf,
But there has to be more.

Nothing evil was lost,
Nothing good was in vain,
All ablaze with clear light
But there has to be more.

Life gathered me up
Safe under it's wing,
My luck always held,
But there has to be more.

Not a leaf was burned up
Not a twig ever snapped
Clean as glass is the day
But there has to be more.

(Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair)
Kaija Saariaho


Nymphea Reflection: I. Sostenuto
Nymphea Reflection: II. Feroce
Nymphea Reflection: III. Dolcissimo
Nymphea Reflection: IV. Lento espressivo
Nymphea Reflection: V. Furioso
Nymphea Reflection: VI. Misterioso


  • 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