Michaelangelo's Poetry Set to Music: Professor Suzanne Farrin in 'Van' Magazine

December 22, 2017

For La Dolce Morte, the piece recently restaged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Farrin turned to the 16th century love poems of Sistene Chapel artist Michaelangelo. 

Professor Suzanne Farrin (GC/Hunter, Music) finds inspiration for her musical compositions in the inner and outer lives of characters in novels, movies, and poetry. For La Dolce Morte, the piece recently restaged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Farrin turned to the 16th century love poems that Michaelangelo, creator of the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta, wrote to a young nobleman, Tommasso de Cavalieri. Reviewing the debut of La Dolce Morte, The New York Times extolled, "Bringing out the shattering honesty of Michelangelo's poetry, Ms. Farrin set the words to music of aching intensity."

Farrin spoke about her work with GC Ph.D. student Daniel Fox (Music), who studies composition with Farrin, for the online music magazine, Van. Farrin told Fox that she evokes Michaelangelo's poetry through voice, that of the countertenor and the sounds of the oboe and bassoon. She said that through her choice of vocal and instrumental, "I think about what is being heard in the mind of the main character and what is entering into his world as an outside element."

The idea and use of gender in the poetry is also translated into her music. Farrin noted that through, "the countertenor's voice in itself, that phenomenon which is kind of male and female, a disembodied or embodied kind of voice -- we're not sure where to locate it. The oboe and the bassoon function as extensions of that character."

She said that she loves the process of composition, which begins with meeting the performers even before she starts writing. "I visit people and I hear things that they are doing. I work with them on sounds and we find this vocabulary through our mutual excitement. The entire vocabulary doesn't end up in the piece, but I end up finding my way by that moment of collaboration and exchange."

Farrin is in the process of discovery again, for a work that goes in a different direction from the monodrama, La Dolce Morte. She won the prestigious Frederick A. Juilliard/Walter Damrosch Rome Prize Fellowship in 2017 to compose an opera based on The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector's novel about life in the pogroms in 19 th century Ukraine.

Fox, who interviewed Farrin, is both a musician and a mathematician. He came to the GC in 2014 with a B.A. in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics from Hampshire College and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Duke University. A composer, he keeps his head in both disciplines, writing articles for math and music publications.

Photo by Luke Redmond