I remember walking in Hyde Park, in London, beside the Serpentine. It was summer. The trees were green. The sun was warm. The shade by the water was cool. There were birds drowsing on the banks, swimming on the blue water, making a racket somewhere off into the trees. Other people wandered by, relaxed, smiling. A summer afternoon, like any other, like so many others.
Somewhere not too far ahead of me, right there on the waterline, was some sort of tea kiosk or some such. They had music playing - I could hear it from where I was, and it was getting a little louder as I came closer, and there was some part of me that grumbled at this because I would have been quite happy, at this point, with the wind and the trees and the birds and the occasional echo of human laughter or the murmur of a soft conversation from folks passing me by. Music seemed... superfluous.
And then I froze in my tracks, the hair on my arms standing to attention, when they began... THIS.
It was the first time I'd heard the song. It would never leave my head again.
Why did it affect me so - that song, that time, that place? Who knew? It might have been one of dozens, luck of the draw. I certainly did not understand the Italian lyrics other than for a general sense of them. But that soaring sound - those oddly mismatched voices that fit so well together - the sense of wings rustling close by as angels settled in to listen - I don't know. I don't know what it was. All I know is that to this day I hear this song and I'm back on the banks of the Serpentine in the summer, feeling the sun hot on my skin, unable to move, to stir, almost to breathe until they were done and something else, something mundane, something of this world, replaced the song on the loudspeakers.
And while on You Tube looking for this, I tripped over this one:
(and then, of course, on a full choral version, like it should be done...)
Va pensiero... sul alli dorate...
Go, thought... on golden wings...
I've always loved that piece of music. Fiercely. ALWAYS. And for this one - I don't remember a moment when I first heard it, at all. I have just always loved it. I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't know it. It was as though I was born with this lament echoing in my heart.
The way I heard tell, this was what the unrehearsed and unprompted crowd lining the streets at Verdi's funeral began to sing as his cortege passed. And that thought, that scene, makes me shiver.
Somewhere up there, right now, Verdi must be sitting back with his eyes closed in pure joy listening to Pavarotti sing his music. I can think of few better ideas of what would constitute a Heaven.