Suzanne Farrin: Corpo di Terra

, composer


Suzanne Farrin's Corpo di Terra is a collection of "songs without words" that composer Suzanne Farrin has created based on sonnets by the Italian poet, Petrarch. These solos and duos explore a fragile, intimate world of sound and expression on their respective instruments. 


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 41:40
01Polvere et Ombra
Polvere et Ombra
Nuiko Wadden, harp4:59
02Corpo di Terra
Corpo di Terra
Julia Lichten, cello12:59
03Uscirmi di Braccia
Uscirmi di Braccia
Antoine Tamestit, viola, Markus Hadulla, piano9:55
04Ma Dentro Dove
Ma Dentro Dove
Joshua Rubin, clarinet8:32
05Time is a Cage
Time is a Cage
Calvin Wiersma, violin5:15

Corpo di Terra is a collection of "songs without words" that composer Suzanne Farrin has created based on sonnets by the Italian poet, Petrarch. This recording, Farrin's first full length release, treats individual instruments as the canvas on which the composer can word paint subtle shadings of color and structure found in the original words. The results are meditative in gestalt but within this introverted frame, there is a wide dramatic range as the instruments struggle to express ideas beyond their abstract limitations.

The recording features performances by several specialists in the field of contemporary music performance, including clarinetist Joshua Rubin and harpist Nuiko Wadden, both of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), veteran New York new music freelancers violinist Cal Wiersma and cellist Julia Lichten, as well as the Munich-competition-winning violist Antoine Tamestit (France) with pianist Markus Hadulla (Germany).

Suzanne Farrin's works have been performed in the US, Europe, and South America, at such venues as Carnegie's Weill Hall, Symphony Space, The Kennedy Center, the Walker Center, the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Sonic Festival, Alpenklassik (Germany), Theaterforum (Germany), and Festival Nuevo Mundo (Maracaibo). She has collaborated with such ensembles as the Arditti Quartet, So Percussion, the American Composer's Orchestra and ICE. Farrin is an Associate Professor of Composition SUNY Purchase.

Suzanne Farrin

Suzanne Farrin is a composer who explores the interior worlds of instruments and the visceral potentialities of sound. Her music has been performed by some of the great musicians of today on stages across Europe and North and South America.

Earlier works have concentrated on establishing an intensity and personal language through careful study of solo instruments along with the interpretive personalities that come with them. Those works include pieces for solo strings (corpo di terra, for cello; Time is a Cage for violin and uscirmi di braccia, for viola and piano or bass drum). Though they have now been played by many interpreters, they were expressly written for people close to Suzanne (Julia Lichten, cello; Cal Wiersma, violin and Antoine Tamestit and Markus Hadulla, viola and piano). That intimacy is a productive space for her: it is as if exploring the very personal habits, sounds and physicality of each brings her closer to a more universal experience.

This search for transcendence has more recently been applied to vocal music. In dolce la morte, Suzanne felt she was expressing the inherent conflicts, contractions and corporal strife that exists in the great master’s love poetry. The piece is her own, but the “mask” of Michelangelo provided a productive mouthpiece from which she could project her own resonance and desire.

Her music has been featured at venues and festivals including The Gothenburg Art Biennial, Mostly Mozart, Matrix, Alpenklassik, Music in Würzburg, BAM NextWave, Theaterforum (Germany), Town Hall Seattle, Carnegie’s Weill Hall, Symphony Space, Wigmore Hall, the Walker Art Center, Centro de Artes de la Universidad Nacional de San Martín (Argentina) and, in New York (where she lives) The Stone, Spectrum, Subculture, Miller Theater, Merkin Hall, Wavehill, Lincoln Center, the Park Avenue Armory, and Joe’s Pub, among many others.

In addition to composing, Suzanne is a performer of the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument created by the engineer Maurice Martenot in France in the 1920s as a response to the simultaneous destruction and technological advances of WWI. Her life as an interpreter on the instrument has taken her to venues such as the Abrons Arts Center in NYC, Centro de Artes in Buenos Aires as well as television, where she was was recently featured in an episode directed by Roman Coppola on the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle.

Suzanne is the Frayda B. Lindemann Professor of Music and Chair at Hunter College and The CUNY Graduate Center, where she teaches composition. She holds a doctorate in from Yale University. Corpo di Terra (New Focus Recordings) is devoted entirely to her work, which may also be heard on the VAI, Signum Classics, Tundra and Albany Records labels. She is currently the Frederic A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize winner in Composition.
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CD Release Event for Suzanne Farrin's Corpo di Terra 11.30.12!

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Time Out Chicago

Each selection on Corpo di Terra seeks to be a “song without words,” which may be why composer Suzanne Farrin’s music feels so familiar. Structured around texts of the Italian poet Petrarch, with the exception of “Time Is a Cage,” these solos and duets play like field recordings from inside the cerebral cortex.

“Polvere et Ombra” uncorks the record with fleet glissandi from harp virtuoso Nuiko Wadden, giving the impression of words being shaken loose from an ancient encyclopedia. The title track, which follows, is most representative of the seductive harmonic language put to use by Farrin. Irascible scratches and dissonances diffuse into the solace of consonant, fluttering harmonics, like the first calm inhalation after a scream.

Corpo di Terra’s sterling musicianship comes to a head with Antoine Tamestit (viola) on “Uscirmi di Braccia” and Joshua Rubin (clarinet) for “Ma Dentro Dove.” Tamestit trounces the tetrachords scrubbing across the strings, while Rubin redirects his instrument into an unplayed piano, the strings of which resonate sympathetically in response. “Time Is a Cage” pulls the listener out of a linear reality with violin soloist Cal Wiersma bending pitches, and the brain.

- Doyle Armbrust, January 2013


I Care if You Listen

The first release exclusively devoted to the music of Suzanne Farrin can be described as a quasi-autobiographical sonic self-portrait refracted through the sonnets of Petrarch. According to the composer’s programme notes, the poems are “projected through the lens of individual instruments,” and set as “songs without words.” Petrarch “became the source of everything… my muse,” unlocking a “dramatic impulse,” as Farrin says in a video interview for the Columbia Italian Academy, where the project was premiered. The series of short to medium-length works on the album combines into a collection of instrumental solos and one duo, recorded by an all-start cast of capable soloists. All but the last piece make direct references to Petrarch’s sonnets by quoting excerpts in their titles.

“Polvere et Ombra” (Dust and Shadows) is a sparkling improvisatory etude of colorful arpeggios, spiky chords and contrasting shadowy whispers, played with brilliance by harpist Nuiko Wadden.
“Corpo di Terra” (Flesh of the Earth) emerges from nothing and crescendos to screaming
distortion like a burning express train, circling around central pitches in a series of broad gestures alternating with contemplative harmonics and silences. The language here is highly evocative and visceral. Cellist Julia Lichten creates a compelling atmosphere that draws the listener into each utterance, encouraging exploration of the inner life of sound as it disintegrates into silence.

“Uscrimi de Braccia” (Leave my Arms) features violist Antoine Tamestit and pianist Markus Hadulla in a bitter melodic lament. We can almost feel the declamation of poetic stanzas, punctuated by intakes of breath. The development in this work is less rhythmically varied, looping around the repeated tremolando gesture in both instruments. The potential of the piano remains somewhat under-explored, allocating a mostly accompanying role to the second musician. However, the very end of the piece presents an unexpected surprise – a dark and aggressive incantation of Mathäus von Collin’s text set by Schubert in Nacht und Träume.

“Ma Dentro Dove” (But Inside Where) has clarinettist Josh Rubin play with resonance and aural illusions in a thoughtful monologue. The clarinet is augmented and shadowed by a cloak of sound from a resonating piano, which is fed the sound of the clarinet through loudspeakers while the dampers are permanently released. Different timbres and registers activate an array of resonances with striking and inventive results. Rubin showcases the full range of possibilities of his instrument, culminating in a breathless bird-like cadenza.

The concluding “Time is a Cage” is a meditative and gradual exploration of gestures and timbres. We recognise stylistic similarities here with string writing from the other pieces on the album: tremolandi, timbral gradations, double stops of melodic fragments with held pedal notes, and extended harmonics. Violinist Calvin Wiersma is particularly effective with the dynamic contrasts and softer shades demanded in this work.

Are these settings songs of unrequited love and the frailty of life and matter? If so, instead of fatalistic pessimism, we are left with a sense of warmth and optimism glowing at the core of each work, something that endures. Farrin shows compelling virtuosity in her writing for soloists, creating intimate, fragile and exposed situations. One feels that hardly anything is superfluous here, with every utterance finely chiselled. Farrin states that composing is an “unmasking” process for her, “taking away until a more essential place is revealed.” The resulting works are indeed stripped of unnecessary layers until we are left with distilled essence of a personal truth – a rare skill for an artist. One can only hope that Farrin continues to explore and expand her palette, venturing into writing for more varied instrumental forces and projecting her language onto a larger canvas.

- Xenia Pestova

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