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From the hungry waiting country : for four voices (SSAA) and harp

by Elliott Gyger (2006)

From the hungry, waiting country


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From the hungry, waiting country / Elliott Gyger.

Library shelf no. CD 1671 [Available for loan]

From the hungry waiting country


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From the hungry waiting country : for four voices (SSAA) and harp / by Elliott Gyger.

Library shelf no. 783.14547/GYG 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

As a member of the so-called "Australian diaspora" from 1996 to 2007, I continued to take a keen interest in Australian news from a distance. Stories in 2004 about the looming water crisis in Sydney particularly grabbed my attention. I have seldom written pieces with explicit reference to current events, but these headlines seemed to demand some sort of response.

In its final form the libretto for From the hungry waiting country is made up of some fifteen different texts: seven 20th-century Australian poems in English, and extracts from eight ancient Near Eastern religious texts in a variety of languages. These seemingly disparate strata are linked by the striking use of Biblical imagery in the Australian poetry, and by the common theme of water in the desert, often as an image for divine grace. Some listeners may find the harsh moral logic of the texts uncomfortable; surely few Australians consider the drought, or other environmental challenges we face, as the handiwork of a vengeful God. Nonetheless there is a profoundly ethical dimension to the emerging ecological crises - an increasing awareness that they are the consequences of our own actions, in more direct ways than could have been imagined 2000 years ago.

The various texts are not heard one after another, but are rather intercut and overlaid in various ways, although each has its own musical material and is scored for a different combination of voices (solos, duets and trios, with the full quartet held in reserve for the very end). The whole is grouped in two large parts, the second almost twice as long as the first. Both parts start in more or less the same place - waiting for rain - but in Part I (Wet) the prayer is answered, whereas in Part II (Dry) it is not.

It may seem anachronistic to close the cycle with A. D. Hope's bitterly ironic "Australia", in which the aridity of the continent becomes a metaphor for cultural poverty. My use of the poem surely differs considerably from Hope's original intention: his images of environmental degradation seem more literally relevant and sharper-edged today, while the small-mindedness he targets is less a feature of the intellectual than of the political climate. Both the poem and my piece nonetheless conclude with a glimmer of hope, that somehow the very harshness of the landscape may give rise to something of unique power and truth.

Work Details

Year: 2006

Instrumentation: Four voices (SSAA), harp.

Duration: 28 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Commission note: Commissioned by Aurora Festival for performance by Halcyon with funds provided by Australia Council.

First performance: by Halcyon, Genevieve Lang — 7 May 06. St Bartholomew's Church, Prospect, NSW

Text taken from: Ambrosia / by William Hart-Smith ; Ishmael / Randolph Stow ; Tch'mala: the Rainbow Serpent / Mark O'Connor ; Day with its dry persistence / Vincent Buckley ; Suns through a lofty bleakness fall / Gwen Harwood ; Australia / A.D. Hope ; and Biblical sources.

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2011 Art Music Awards: Performance of the Year Finalist Halcyon
2006 Paul Lowin Song Cycle Prize Highly Commended Elliott Gyger


Resonate article: Art Music Awards 2011 - finalists announced by Australian Music Centre


Performances of this work

7 Aug 2009: at Halcyon: Extreme Nature (Verbrugghen Hall). Featuring Halcyon, Matthew Coorey.

7 May 06: St Bartholomew's Church, Prospect, NSW. Featuring Halcyon, Genevieve Lang.

User reviews

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My favourite Australian art song repertoire

Posted by Australian Music Centre on 22 July, 2013

The AMC asked leading practitioners to select their favourite Australian art song repertoire, to provide delegates to the 2013 International Conference of Vocal Teachers (Brisbane 2013) with an introduction to this rich and diverse landscape.
A difficult, intellectually demanding and deeply satisfying work from this unique Australian voice. Based on a number of Australian texts and dealing with both wet and dry aspects of the Australian landscape, the singers and harpist must together brave the powerful and often nerve-wracking moments that come wave after wave through the musical material. Everyone is at once a soloist and an ensemble player, with nowhere to hide in the writing, which is so impressive. Extreme sport for musicians.
Confronts Australia's harsh landscape in an intricate and beguiling libretto. This piece makes clear Gyger's deep understanding of voices, how they work, and how to show them at their best.
Jane Sheldon