Language of snow
Year of composition:
Choir SSAATTBB, String orchestra (min. 87642)
21 min
Commissioned by:
Det Norske Solistkor
2017-10-28, Universitets Aula

In 2018, Muohta was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize. The jury described it as “a piece of music that is at once acutely contemporary yet conscious of its history.” Read the complete nomination text here.


Muohta is the general word for snow in Sámi language, and snow is what the piece is about.Listeners are invited into a series of frozen soundscapes that span from meditative quietness to the odd contrasts of texture that may engender a sense of risk and unease.

The piece depicts slow changes that are barely visible or perceptible to human senses. When the piece was performed for the first time – along with Joseph Haydn’s The Seasons in Oslo in 2017 – the composer noted that the context had inspired him to attempt a step away from concepts of progress based on controlling nature, and instead engage with an indigenous experience of living with nature.

The piece is in 18 sections, each based on a word in the Sámi language related to snow. The sound of these words represent the only phonetic material used by the choir in this music. Some of the words describe snow directly, others its impact on everyday human life – for example, ulahat means “an over-snowed winter trail which is barely visible”.


The composer uses various composition techniques in order to obtain the desired richness of expression and soundscapes. The harmonic structure of the opening section appears, reminding of a baroque ritornello, five times during the piece, every time clothed in diffferent textures. At other places, hexagonal symmetrical patterns between pitches occur, inspired by the structure of snowflakes. There is also a clear influence present from the composer's experience with free improvisation, as events in various vocal and instrumental groups happen in parallel, as seemingly independent processes. Finally, the physical structure of snow phenomena inspire musical structures, i.e. wave-shaped rhythmical shifts, dissolving canons, doppler effects etc.

To get into detail with the phonetics of Sami language, the composer transcribed recordings of the 18 spoken words, played back at 3x slow speed. This resulted in passages where the choir pronounces certain words in a slow, "ghost-like" way, and also in the separation of the individual sounds in a word, detaching from eachother and becoming purely musical objects.

Muohta page1
page 1 of score
More info:

The 18 words for

NB noter
Released on album(s):

Vel fortjent, Asheim (Stavanger Aftenblad)
Ekstra viktig for oss i den litt stille delen av musikklivet (Stavanger Aftenblad + Aftenposten)
Stillfarende og prisbelønt (Vårt Land)
Fikk Nordisk Råds musikkpris da han ventet det minst (Minervanett)

The jury's statement: "The 2018 Nordic Council Music Prize goes to a piece of music that is at once acutely contemporary yet conscious of its history. Our very first instrument, the human voice, is central to the piece whose sound world cautiously integrates language. Listeners are invited into a different experience of time, into a series of atmospheres or states which sometimes engender a sense of risk and unease.