My dissertation essay will examine two contemporary operas, L’Amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho and Hamlet by Christian Jost, as well as describe the influences on each composer that led to their respective operas. The second part of the dissertation will be the presentation of a portfolio of original compositions.
In Chapter 1 of the essay, I’ve presented biographies of both composers with particular emphasis on works leading up to the operas under discussion. Chapter 2 comprises a summary and discussion of the texts and librettos, and their relationship to musical structure. This chapter will be followed by in-depth analysis of selected scenes from each opera in Chapter 3.
Saariaho’s music has already been the subject of scholarly analysis (Howell, 2011). Essays on L’Amour de loin concern the figure of Jaufré Rudel, as well as identifying leitmotifs within the opera. Other studies center on the vocal writing of Saariaho (Lambright, 2008), but do not specifically address the relation of text to music. Although Christian Jost’s work has received considerable attention in the press, his oeuvre has yet to be subjected to serious academic study.
Kaija Saariaho, born in Finland in 1952, incorporates a multitude of stylistic influences into her work. Scholars and critics frequently associate her with the spectral movement and with such composers as Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. Saariaho’s first opera, L’Amour de loin, represents a major pinnacle of the composer’s oeuvre. Born in Germany in 1963, Christian Jost has established a distinctive oeuvre over the last twenty years in particular. His Hamlet makes use of Shakespeare’s original play, but rather than a literal re-enactment, Jost selects disconnected words and passages from the original and its German translation, and uses these to construct his narrative. Jost’s operas preceding Hamlet, and even many short instrumental works, exhibit techniques similar to those of Hamlet, showing a progression and a building of compositional technique.
Analyses of the text of selected scenes of Hamlet and L’Amour de loin will demonstrate the challenges faced by each composer. Saariaho’s libretto focuses on a single idea (the protagonist’s desperation and longing for love) and expands it into five sustainable acts. Her approach to text setting is traditional, and she was able to help mold the text to her musical vision, through frequent consultations with her librettist, French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf. The opera is loosely based on the life of the historical figure Jaufré Rudel, a troubadour of the early to mid-12th century.
Jost, by contrast, adapted Shakespeare’s multi-faceted work, with its complicated psychological framework, in its totality, but streamlined events and purposely blurred elements in transferring the play to the musical stage. The abridgment naturally simplified the story, but allowed the composer to probe in-depth the psychological states and emotions of the characters.
Despite Kaija Saariaho and Christian Jost’s dissimilar backgrounds and musical styles, both composers explore similar types of dramatic development. The beginnings of each work will serve as focal points to delineate my analytical discussions.