Commissioned by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra

  • 2(picc,afl).2.3(bcl).2(cbn)/ (see below for details)
  • 30 min

Programme Note

Six quatrains by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi have been both inspiration and part of the musical material for Circle Map.

Reading these six verses in their English translations, taking in their essence and vivid, yet simple imagery provided me with immediate inspiration. Yet, when studying the recordings of the poem we made, read in the original Persian by Arshia Cont, the abstract rhythm and musicality of the texts themselves struck me.

These recordings became the main material for the electronic part. In concert, these sounds are processed and mixed in real time and are then diffused across six loudspeakers surrounding the audience. All the work concerning the electronics was realized with Jean-Baptiste Barrière.

Each movement of Circle Map has a singular relation to a poem, a distinct orchestration, and a particular processing of the texts in the work’s electronics: the pitch and tone of the original voice modified differently from one movement to another. Each has its own character to bring out.

Indeed, so connected is the work to Rumi’s verse that the very musical material for the orchestra is based on the recorded Persian readings. A clear example of this is the relation of the orchestra and the text in the second movement, Walls closing. This movement ends in a rhythmic unison by orchestra and the voice, and the instruments also follow the pitches and intonations of the original speech.

For the best introduction to Circle Map read the poems by Rumi!


English translations below come from the following book: Unseen Rain: Quatrains of Rumi translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks (Threshold Books). The poems don’t have titles in the book, but I have given the following titles for the six parts of the piece:

I. Morning Wind

The morning wind spreads its fresh smell.
We must get up and take that in,
that wind that lets us live.
Breathe, before it’s gone.

Sobh ast o sabâ moshk feshân migozarad
Daryâb ke az kooye folan migozarad
Barkhiz – ché khosbi? ke jahân migozarad
Booyi besetân ke kârevân migozarad

II. Walls closing

Seeing you heals me.
Not seeing you, I feel the walls closing.
I would not wish for anyone else
such absence.

Déltangano didaré to darmâne manast
birange rokhat, zamâné zendâne manast
bar hich déli mabâd o bar hich tani
ânche az ghame héjrâne to bar jâne manast

III. Circles

Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes from the center.

Dar noh ghadami ke cheshmé heyvânast
migarad cho charkh tâ mahat gérânast
jânist tora bégard hazrat gardân
in jâne gardân ze gardéshé ân jânast

IV. Days are Sieves

Days are sieves to filter spirit,
reveal impurities, and too,
show the light of some who throw
their own shining into the universe.

In rouzé cho gharbâl be beyzan jân râ
Peydâ ârad ghorâzeye penhân râ
jâni ke konad khiré mahé tâbân râ
bi pardé shavad, noor dahad keyvân râ

V. Dialogue

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me ?
Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

Goftam ke ze khordi délé man nist padid
Ghamhâye bozorgé to dar oo chon gonjid
Goftâ ké zé del bédidé bâyad négarid
Khord ast o dar oo boroghâ bet-vân did

VI. Day and Night, Music

All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reedsong. If it
fades, we fade.

Âvâzé torâ tab’é délé mâ bâdâ
Andar shab-o-rouz, shâdo gouyâ bâdâ
âvâze khaste-ye to gar khaste shavad khaste chavim
âvâzé to chon nâye shékar-khâ bâdâ



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