Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Ben Arnold


Composer Kaija Saariaho’s 2006 work La Passion de Simone often leaves audiences and critics at a loss to understand what they have witnessed. The title, subject, and sparse libretto only complicate this confusion. The genre of the work is ambiguous to many; some critics call it an opera, some an oratorio. Because the subject of the work, French philosopher Simone Weil, is widely unknown to the public, her placement within the framework of a Passion is often met with confusion if not criticism.

By fusing Weil’s life and philosophical ideas in this work, Saariaho explores how the awareness of the mind and the life of the body are experienced simultaneously, but in multiple dimensions. Weil was determined to merge these dimensions in her own life, and La Passion honors her philosophy in its unique structure, that of a cross or chiasm.

Saariaho presents the story linearly, yet that linear path is only one dimension of the essence of Weil’s life captured within La Passion. The profundity of her thought and the conclusions she drew about the necessity of self-emptying, of kenosis, are the supportive axis upon which the work rests. Amin Maalouf’s libretto is obscure, constructed of allusions and aphorisms; the music is impassioned, alternately transcendent and violent, and sometimes seemingly unrelated to the libretto.

This dissertation examines the relationship of the libretto to the structure and materials of the music. It pursues answers to questions most often asked about this work, “Can this legitimately be defined as a Passion?” and more specifically “How does this work communicate Weil’s life and ideas?” My conclusion is that Saariaho has created a work of musical ekphrasis, transforming the essence of Weil’s life and philosophy into a musical structure presented as an object for contemplation. La Passion de Simone can, indeed, be defined as a passion oratorio not despite Weil’s placement within the work, but because of it.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)