Though the beginning and end of Canticum Mariae virginis
(1978) sound like an aleatoric sound field surrounded by soprano and bass melodies, the music here is precisely notated. Organized symmetrically in many ways, the work opens with a strict ten-part canon for altos and tenors on a melody which is in itself symmetrical—a palindrome. The soprano and bass melodies that appear above and below this field are mirror images of one another, and the finest example of symmetry in the work appears at the words ‘Beatam me dicent’, a section which is even graphically symmetric in the score, the high soprano and low bass utterances being symmetrically placed on the page.
In the canon sections, the initial harmony with semitone tensions eventually resolves into a calmer, pentatonic harmony. Towards the end, this is joined by bell-like tones (come campani) in the bass part. The fragmented motifs in parallel fourths, sung by the sopranos, as well as the overall principle of symmetric organization, reappear in the Magnificat and also in Katedralen.
from notes by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi © 2010