Letters from a black snake : baritone voice with piano
by George Palmer (2007)
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This song cycle was commissioned by Ernst & Young to mark the
opening of a major retrospective of the works of Sidney Nolan,
perhaps Australia's best-known artist, and was performed at the
New South Wales State Art Gallery and the National Gallery of
Victoria. The text is taken from the letters of Ned Kelly,
Australia's most notorious bushranger, who was hanged in
Melbourne Gaol in 1880. Nolan identified himself with Kelly and
painted a series of pictures of episodes in Kelly's saga which
have become icons of Australian art.
The first of the five songs is a short note written by Ned at the age of 15, seeking the help of a police sergeant in finding work and introduces himself as the persona 'the black snake' which is how the townspeople are beginning to characterise him. The last is a letter to the Governor of Victoria, written hours before Ned was hanged, in which Ned asks for the release of his mother from prison and requests that he be buried in consecrated ground. The letters reveal Ned as an intelligent and resourceful man, despite a lack of formal education. He can be lyrical, even poetic, and the next moment almost incoherent with rage.
Instrumentation: Baritone voice, piano.
Duration: 22 min.
Contents note: I : To Sergeant Babington -- II. They know I have been wronged -- III: Bullock Creek -- IV : The murder -- V : In conclusion.
Commission note: Commissioned by Ernst & Young.
Performances of this work
24 Sep 2023: at Festival of Art Song (Sydney Conservatorium of Music).
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