Suzanne Farrin’s dolce la morte is out today on Tundra Records! Composed for ICE and featuring countertenor Eric Jurenas, the performance is conducted by David Fulmer and follows an acclaimed run at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Suzanne speaks about the piece and its history:
IN CONVERSATION WITH JACOB GREENBERG
I found a book of Michelangelo's poems wandering around the Strand Bookstore, and what I felt when reading them was this very operatic sensibility, even though they were written before the advent of what we consider to be opera. Other people tell me that visual artists look to the future better than we do as musicians, so it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine Michelangelo in a sound world beyond his actual years.
I feel like each of the poems draws on a very independent world, so each of the ones I'm setting takes us to different part of a humanist experience--Michelangelo being such a wonderful example of humanist thinking. They're all through the lens of a visual artist, and it's a very corporeal language—I can't imagine all visual artists would have the same corporeal way of speaking about human experience—and of course they're love poems, but it's love as a vehicle for all kinds of other things. It's love as a lens for living, for theology—he has a large world that he sees through his physical attraction to another person. Some of the poems are a little creepy—there's one where he writes about wanting to be the skin around his lover, or wanting to be the boots that he wears. If we received a poem like that, it might give us pause! It's fascinating and wonderful that it's so sincere. And some of the poems show beautifully the transcendental experience of being in love, bringing it into the world of making art with your hands. He tries to understand what the human experience brings him as an artist. And there's one poem which is very painful, one where he actually regrets the vulnerability of being in love, and he says that he wants his tears back, he wants his footsteps back. There will be moments when you hear love's sadness.
I don't know when it happened that I imagined including a countertenor—there are so many people writing for countertenor now that it's having a renaissance. I must have been part of that collective consciousness. But I think it speaks to us on a lot of levels. There isn't one trick for writing for countertenor—there’s a certain strength, and a lot of ways even of coloring a vowel. Also the genderless quality of the voice--a familiar unfamiliarity. You know it, but you can't quite place it—it's an amazing sound, and you wonder, who can do that?
FROM THE RECORDING LINER NOTES
In 1532 Michelangelo met the young Roman nobleman Tommaso de' Cavalieri. Though the details of their relationship are unknown, we know that the meeting inspired the artist to compose intense poetry that deals with the joy and complexity of desire and spiritual fulfillment. The two men also exchanged "presentation" drawings, which were intended to be lessons for Tommaso. Mainly depicting stories from Greek mythology, they include some famous works such as Phaeton, Ganymede and il Sogno. The men became life-long friends and Tommaso was among those at Michelangelo's side when he passed in 1564.
For me, the visual works that mostly closely express a feeling similar to the love poems are the Prisoner Statues, which now beautifully stand before the David at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. These are the unfinished statues whose bodies look as though they were abandoned in mid-thought. Each form exists in many different stages of emergence: a perfect bicep, a shin sinking into rough stone, a faceless head. There is great motion and strength in these figures imprisoned in the stone. They are both submerged and unbound: muscles strain and reach like a contrapposto between life and non-living.
The poems contained in this CD also seem to be in a process. His speech cannot fully contain the overwhelming impetus of physical love, which at times becomes too much for the sonnets to bear. They stretch and are torn out of shape. They sing, shed their form and fall silent. In composing dolce, I hoped to create a sound world that inhabits the space between creation and being.