• Kaija Saariaho
  • Nuits, adieux (a cappella version) (1996)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Joyful Company of Singers

  • SATB
  • 10 min
  • Jacques Roubaud, Honoré de Balzac
  • French
    • 30th August 2024, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden
    View all

Programme Note

Kaija Saariaho originally wrote Nuit, adieux in 1991 for vocal quartet and electronics. Five years later, at the request of the Joyful Company of Singers, she wrote a new version in which the mixed choir replaces and imitates the electronics of the original. The various echoes, delays and other effects have been transferred to the choir part.

© Risto Nieminen
translated by © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Nuits, adieux is about singing, breathing, whispering, night time, farewells.
The piece consists of ten passages, five of them entitled Nuit , five remaining Adieu.

Two different text sources are used for these two kinds of passages: extracts from Jacques Roubaud's book Echanges de la lumière ('nights') and a fragment from Honoré de Balzac's novel Séraphita ('farewells').

The voices are amplified and processed during the performance. Each singer is using two microphones. One of them is used as a general mean of amplification, and is sent then to different, changing processing programs ( eg. early reflection, gate reverb, delay). Audibly the most dominant processing is, nevertheless, done with the material sung into the second microphone. Here I use a reverberation, in which the reverb time is controlled by the dynamic changes of the voices. In general, this time is set to be relatively long, and the audible result is a continuously changing texture, which forms a background for the more present events sung into the first microphone.

The best introduction would be to read the texts I have chosen for the piece.

Nuits, adieux is was commisioned by the WDR, and the first performance was given by the Electric Phoenix in Cologne the 11th of May 1991.

The piece is dedicated for the memory of my grand mother.


Jacques Roubaud, Echanges de la lumière
Editions A M Métaillé

Dans l'air
de la terre
au noir la lumière
et la crache
dans l'air
la nuit rêche jusqu'aux bords
des arbres
dans la terre
es venue
ont poussé

les herbes, les pentes

lumières, les

dans l'herbe
de la terre
au noir les grains les vagues
de la lumière
et les crachent
dans l'herbe la nuit réelle jus-
qu'au bord
des arbres
sous la terre

Nuit, c'est cela
de noir révérend la lumière n'est
que pour le définir
la nuit première précéda le jour

English Translation © BBC
In the air the light flies out of the ground
into the darkness and spits it into the air.
Night harsh in the ground up to the edge
of the trees

Night you have come,
lights have advanced over the grass,
the slopes devoid of light,
the lights have become dark

In the grass seed, waves of light
cling to the earth in the darkness and
spit them out onto the grass,
deep night up to the edge of the trees
beneath the ground

That’s what night is: a dark holy head of hair.
The light is only to define it.
Thus the first night gave way to day.

Honoré de Balzac, Sèraphîta, Berg International Editeurs
Adieu, granit, tu deviendras fleur; adieu, fleur, tu deviendras colombe; adieu colombe, tu seras femme;
adieu, femme, tu seras soufrance; adieu, homme, tu seras croyance; adieu, vous qui serez tout amour et prière.

English Translation © BBC
Farewell, granite, you will become a flower; farewell, flower, you will become a dove; farewell dove, you will be a woman; farewell woman, you will become pain; farewell, man, you will become belief; farewell, you who will be all love and prayer.


Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Nuit I
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Adieu I
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Nuit II
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Adieu II
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Nuit III
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Nuit IV
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Nuit V
Nuits, adieux (A cappella Version): Adieux III-IV