Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. After mastering contemporary compositional approaches ranging from the mathematical concerns of serialism, to the interest in timbre as an structural element of spectralism, as well as computer assisted work combining electronics with live performers, she went on to develop a very successful personal style.
Terra Memoria features a two note rhythmic motive, short-long, that feels like a heart beat. The motive recurs throughout the piece on all levels. There are two note figures, short measures followed by long measures, short phrases followed by long phrases, and short sections followed by long sections. What is interesting is the the long notes, long measures, long phrases and long sections do not offer new material but a hollow echo of the original short material. One short note will frequently be a passionately expressive and then followed by a note which sounds dull as if it were a memory or ghost of the past, weighing us down. The conflict reaches a climax about two thirds of the way through the piece where every player of the orchestra joins to a cacophony of passionate desire to no avail as the long answers inexorably prevail with a crushing weight. Strangely, or perhaps wonderfully, the end of the piece finds a perfect balance hinted at earlier but not yet developed. The short notes remain as they have always been but the long notes gradually are replaced by harmonics. The piece ends, as it must, with the heart beat motive slowly and steadily repeating while we ponder the ghostly harmonics hovering above. Life and memories remain inextricably linked.