Composer Kaija Saariaho has died, aged 70

It was with great sadness that we learned the news over the weekend of the death of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho.

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has died at the age of 70. The acclaimed, prize-winning artist was being treated for brain cancer, but continued to work despite the diagnosis. Indeed, she completed a trumpet concerto (entitled Hush) as recently as March.

Away from music it was the natural world and visual arts that occupied Kaija Saariaho’s interest, and both filtered into her compositions. Dreamlike soundscapes were something of a trademark for the composer, whose musical vocabulary was broad, taking her from the deeply experimental electronic soundworlds of her youthful works through to the graceful, fervent operas, instrumental and vocal works that marked her later output.

Born in Helsinki, Saariaho studied at the city’s famous Sibelius Academy alongside familiar names such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg, and under composers including Paavo Heininen. Her studies also took her to Germany, where she worked with both Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber.

It was in early-1980s Paris that the composer truly blossomed, though, with a formative period working at Pierre Boulez’s research facility where she embraced electronic music. From there she found her voice and increasing acclaim internationally, quietly blazing a trail and becoming a beacon for other women composers.


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