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Letters from a black snake : baritone voice with piano

by George Palmer (2007)

Score Sample

View a sample of the score of this work

Audio Sample

Performance by Barry Ryan, Jeanell Carrigan from the CD Letters from a Black Snake

Letters from a Black Snake


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Letters from a black snake


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Letters from a black snake / music: George Palmer ; words: Ned Kelly.

Library shelf no. 783.88547/PAL 1 [Available for loan]

Work Overview

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.

Work Details

Year: 2007

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).

30 Apr 2019: at The songs of George Palmer (Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium of Music). Featuring Barry Ryan, Jeanell Carrigan.

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