Eight O's in Woolloomooloo
a solo cantata after the Mark Twain poem "A Sweltering Day in Australia"
for contralto voice, violin, viola,
viola da gamba and cello
Mark Twain, during his 1897 trip around the world, wrote in his diary:
Blazing hot, all day. December 20. Back to Sydney. Blazing hot again. From the newspaper, and from the map, I have made a collection of curious names of Australasian towns, with the idea of making a poem out of them. It may be best to build the poem now and make the weather help.... Those are good words for poetry. Among the best I have ever seen. There are 81 in the list. I did not need them all, but I have knocked down 66 of them, which is a good bag, it seems to me, for a person not in the business... The best word in that list, and the most musical and gurgly is Woolloomooloo... It has eight O's in it.
"Eight O's in Woolloomooloo" traverses a vast space, full of extreme contrasts and absurd exaggerations, inspired by Twain's satirical genius. The music is down-home American... what else could it be?... but peppered by impressions of the Australian outback.
The work was written specifically with Baroque instruments in mind, with their distinctive timbre and coloration (though it can also be performed on modern instruments), and for the virtuosity and musicality of the Galax Quartet. The vocal part was inspired by Karen Clark's beautifully expansive pure tone and stylistic flexibility, ranging from opera to bluegrass.
"Eight O's..." was commissioned by the Galax Quartet with the help of a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music. Thanks also to Australian Professors Philip Mcmanus, Alistair Riddell and Peter Kirkpatrick, who helped with the pronunciation of the place names.
Excerpts of "Eight O's in Woolloomooloo" from a performance by the Galax Quartet and Karen Clark, presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society, Trinity Chapel, Berkeley, California, December 4, 2014.