Commissioned by the Finnish Radio Corporation

Dedicated to Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Yantra - choreography by Wayne McGregor (2010)

  • 2pic(fl:afl)+2fl(bfl).3+ca.3(Ebcl)+bcl.3+cbn/6331/timp.4perc/2hp.kbd(pf,cel)/bgtr/str
  • 20 min

Programme Note

Foreign Bodies shares some of the material of my recent piano piece“Mécanisme” (1st movement of “Dichotomie”) and a choral piece “Djupt i rummet” (Deep Within the Chamber). In addition, there is some completely new material, but basically the piece is a synthesis of all the thinking and new ideas I developed during my sabbatical year from conducting in 2000. I revised the score in the spring of 2002, after the first run of performances.

“Foreign Bodies” is scored for a very large orchestra; in fact the largest I have ever used with quadruple woodwinds, six horns, two harps, four percussionists and organ. For fairly obvious reasons, my thinking tends to be orchestral even when writing music for another medium, which makes it very natural to expand ideas in an orchestral context. I’m endlessly fascinated by the complexities of texture, balance, timbre and instrumental gesture; therefore the category “Kapellmeistermusik” has no pejorative meaning to me.

As the title “Foreign Bodies” suggests (it actually suggests lots of things), the music is very physical in expression, almost like an imaginary scène de ballet. The title also refers to the fact that I am less concerned about the purely cerebral aspects of music and more interested in the physical reality of the music, i.e. the sound itself, than before. Also, more than two decades of conducting have helped me to think in a simpler, more direct way than before.

“Foreign Bodies” consists of three movements:
Body Language

The first movement is essentially a study of mechanical motion. The music is often machine-like in its relentless movement. These machines are not watchmaker’s precision instruments but huge and extremely massive things that consume enormous amounts of energy. In the process of Body Language the machines sometimes become other machines through gradual transformation. Sometimes the motion changes suddenly and drastically, but mostly the new machines start growing inside the old one unnoticeably not unlike a virus or another foreign body within a host organism. The first movement ends peacefully however: a hymn-like theme is heard under gently pulsating strings.

The second movement, “Language” is base on a choral song I wrote to a poem by the Swedish poet Ann Jäderlund,“Deep Within The Chamber”.

Rosy pink eye flower
Shoulder skin gentle flower
Gentle eye shoulder skin
The sun enters oh a flower
Yellow pink in islands skin
Red in mouth yellow gentle
Eye red shoulder skin
Deep within the chamber flower

(Translation by Ann Jäderlund)

The words are well hidden in the music, but always present. In this movement I ask double bass players and cellists to de-tune their instruments (scordatura) in order to produce unusual natural harmonics.

The third movement, “Dance” is precisely what the title suggests: a monotonous, shamanistic dance. Even this short movement contains a virus: the persistent triplet figures in the horns cause the entire rhythm to collapse, and the music shifts to a lower gear rather dramatically. At the end I bring back the Ritornello-theme from the first movement in the brass, enforced by the organ.

All three movements are played attacca, without pause.

Foreign Bodies was commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and is dedicated to Jukka-Pekka Saraste, a close friend and a much-admired colleague, who conducted the first performance in Kiel at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in 2001.

© Esa-Pekka Salonen


Foreign Bodies: Part I: Body Language
Foreign Bodies: Part II: Language
Foreign Bodies: Part III: Dance




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