William Susman

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William Susman
William Susman.jpg
Background information
Birth name William Joseph Susman
Born (1960-08-29) August 29, 1960 (age 55)
Origin Chicago, United States
Genres classical, orchestra, electronic, film
Occupation(s) Composer
Instruments Piano, Keyboards, Percussion
Years active 1983–present
Labels Belarca (NAXOS) (record label)
Website www.susmanmusic.com

William Joseph Susman (born August 29, 1960) is an American composer of concert and film music and a pianist. He belongs to the generation of American composers that came of age in the late twentieth century and received traditional academic training while remaining thoroughly engaged with popular music (in his case, jazz).[1] Susman has written orchestral and chamber music for concert performance, as well as documentary film scores.[2]

His first major work and earliest recognition was for Pentateuch for soprano, three choral groups and divisi orchestra, which caught the attention of Earle Brown at the BMI awards in 1985.[3] At Brown's recommendation, he received a commission from the Fromm Music Foundation. For his Fromm commission he composed Trailing Vortices (1986) for chamber orchestra which had performances at the Aspen Music festival as well as the Alicante and Gaudeamus music festivals both conducted by Ernest Bour.[4] Trailing Vortices was inspired by photographs found in An Album of Fluid Motion by Milton Van Dyke. He then applied the acoustical concepts of Shepard tones and the studies of Jean Claude Risset to create an "aural translation" of trailing vortices.


His music integrates diverse influences spanning the western classical and jazz tradition to science and numerology. Rhythm plays a strong role in his compositions through musical devices such as the Afro-Cuban montuño, medieval hocket and isorhythm. The New York Times has described his music as ".. vivid, turbulent, rich-textured..."[5] and The Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange said his album Music for Moving Pictures[6] is "A flawless gem...of rare beauty and consummate aesthetic discretion".[7]

In addition to performances of his music in the U.S. and Europe, his compositions have been featured on radio such as New Sounds on WNYC,[8] Echoes[9] on NPR and Concertzender[10]

He founded the record label Belarca for the ensemble OCTET with distribution by Naxos of America. Its mission is to record and widely disseminate contemporary music by living composers who push artistic boundaries.[11] Scatter My Ashes released by Belarca was the album debut for Octet Ensemble.[12]


His earliest orchestral works such as Openings, Pentateuch and Trailing Vortices pay tribute and demonstrate an affinity to the explorations of Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti.[13] His interest in algorithmic composition can be attributed also to his composition teacher Herbert Brun at the University of Illinois and John Chowning at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).[14] His early use of microtonal composition was influenced by another University of Illinois teacher Ben Johnston as well as Xenakis.[15]

Other influences that make their appearance early on include numerology in works such as Pentateuch and the Fibonacci number series in Twisted Figures and Uprising.[16] He also studied piano with Pauline Lindsey (a student of Artur Schnabel), Steve Behr (pianist with Louis Armstrong) and Alan Swain.[17]


  • ASCAP Foundation Young Composer Award for Trailing Vortices
  • ASCAP Foundation Raymond Hubbell Award for Movement for Orchestra
  • BMI Student Composer Award for Pentateuch
  • Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard for Trailing Vortices
  • Gaudeamus International Musicweek for Trailing Vortices
  • Pare Lorentz Award - International Documentary Association for Oil on Ice
  • KUCYNA/ALEA III International Composers Competition for Twisted Figures
  • Percussive Arts Society for Exchanges
  • Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary Short for Native New Yorker



  • Snow Lion of Peace (2009)
  • Zydeco Madness: To the Forgotten of Huricaine Katrina (2006)
  • Angels of Light (1991)
  • Uprising (1989)
  • Trailing Vortices (1986)
  • Pentateuch (1984)
  • Openings (1982)
  • Movement for Orchestra (1980)

Chamber ensemble[edit]

  • Seven Scenes for Four Flutes (2011)
  • Camille (2010)
  • Clouds and Flames (2010)
  • Native New Yorker (2005)
  • Three Different Keyboards (2001)
  • The Starry Dynamo (1994)
  • Exposé (1989)
  • Twisted Figures (1987)
  • Streamlines (1984)
  • For Three Trombones (1983)

Wind quintet[edit]

  • Six Minutes Thirty Seconds (1995)

Brass quintet[edit]

  • The Heavens Above (1998)


  • Salaam Alaykum, Shalom Alaychem (2011) SATB
  • Eternal Light (2010) SATB
  • Scatter My Ashes (2009)
  • Living These Seasons (2009) SATB & piano
  • Moving in to an Empty Space (1992)
  • Interlude (1984)
  • Two Songs (1983)
  • Elie (1983) SATB
  • Three Songs (1981)


  • Material Rhythms for percussion quartet (2010)
  • Amores Montuños for flute & marimba (2008)
  • Marimba Montuño for Joseph Gramley (2002)
  • Floating Falling for cello and timpani (1987)
  • Exchanges for percussion soloist and winds (1982)

String quartet[edit]

  • Zydeco Madness (2006)
  • Patterns of Change (1997)
  • Up to the Sky (1988)
  • Streams (1984)

Piano Trio[edit]

Clouds and Flames (2010)


  • Quiet Rhythms - Book IV (2013) A set of 22 piano pieces
  • Quiet Rhythms - Book III (2012) A set of 22 piano pieces
  • Quiet Rhythms - Book II (2010) A set of 22 piano pieces
  • Quiet Rhythms - Book I (2010) A set of 22 piano pieces
  • Piano Montuño (2004)
  • Uprising (1988)

Solo and duo[edit]

  • Zydeco Madness for accordion (2005)
  • Duo Montuño for clarinet & piano (2004)
  • Duo Montuño for alto sax & piano (2004)
  • Duo Montuño for viola and piano (2004)
  • Motions of Return for flute & piano (1996)
  • For Cello (1984)
  • Halilah for viola (1983)
  • Nnyl for trombone (1983)
  • Turbulence for flute (1983)
  • Violin Study (1983)


  • Waves for piano and computer-generated sound (version with notated piano part) (1982)
  • Waves for Any number of improvisers and computer-generated sound (1982)

Film music[edit]

  • People of the Graphic Novel (2012)
  • Joann Sfar Draws from Memory (2012)
  • When Medicine Got It Wrong (2009)
  • Balancing Acts: A Jewish Theater in the Soviet Union (2008)
  • Making the Man (2007)
  • Fate of the Lhapa (2007)
  • Native New Yorker (2005)
  • Oil on Ice (2004)
  • Asphyxiating Uma (2002)
  • Deep Under the Ice (2000) aka NASA Explores Under the Ice
  • Daydream Believer (1998)
  • Alaska's Arctic Wildlife (1997)
  • Indonesia (1996)
  • The Philippines (1996)
  • Southern Africa Safari (1995)
  • Discovering the Amazon and the Andes (1994)
  • The Elephant Seals of Ano Nuevo (1994)
  • Exploring Tropical Australia (1993)


  • Scatter My Ashes Camille, Scatter My Ashes, Piano Concerto and, Moving In To An Empty Space performed by OCTET ensemble
  • Music for Moving Pictures Three film scores performed by Joan Jeanrenaud, Mira Stroika and William Susman
  • Fate of the Lhapa Film score performed by Joan Jeanrenaud, Tsering Wangmo and William Susman
  • Global Percussion Marimba Montuño included on Joseph Gramley's solo percussion album.
  • Oil on Ice Film score performed by Joan Jeanrenaud, Adeline Peter Raboff and William Susman

Radio archives online[edit]


External links[edit]