Monday, September 10, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti 1935 - 2007 R.I.P.

A Big Voice Falls Silent

In Memoriam Cantoris Magni – Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

As always in my writing, whether on real or on virtual pages, things come together and form connections and a greater whole takes shape. The death of the great and wonderful tenor Luciano Pavorotti has deprived us of the most wonderful and talented male voices of the twentieth century. In his own words: “ Penso che una vita per la musica sia una vita spesa bene ed è a questo che mi sono dedicato” which translates into English as “I think that a life spent in music is a life well spent and it is to this that I have dedicated myself.” We are the beneficiaries of Pavarotti’s wonderful and persistent dedication.

Let me return momentarily to my favourite psychiatrist of all time the great late Dr Anthony Storr. This latter scholar wrote a wonderful wee book on the psychology of music – a ground-breaking and particularly singular and original work to my mind. On the frontispiece of this book he quotes John Logan to the effect that “Music is the Medicine of the Mind.”(Music and the Mind, Harper Collins, 1997) My last posts were about mental health and mental illness, and indeed about what personality is for me, and now I find this great connection with music, which as I’ve quoted, is believed to be healing. How could one ever doubt this marvellous contention when listening to the wonderful instrument of the human voice in the person of the late great Luciano Pavarotti? His very name is synonymous with a richness, a height, a depth and a breadth of talent in the operatic field. As I type these words, I am listening to his wonderful voice wringing a tear from my heart – he’s singing the wonderful Ave Maria by Schubert at this very moment that I type this full stop or period.

It is often said the music is the language of the soul. In other words, it is a medium that reaches to the very depths of our personhood, deep down into the recesses of our hearts and souls. Years ago when I had, what I now count as the singular fortune, to spend some seven weeks in a psychiatric hospital here in the centre of Dublin City, many of us patients spent hours listening to music. Music is indeed healing. It possesses a spiritual quality that moves us to the depths and heights of our being. And, wow, could Pavarotti play with the strings of our souls and allow our own hearts to fly with him on a mystical journey to some entranced and spiritual state beyond our quotidian concerns? Whence comes such a power? If some space travellers came from afar and witnessed us human creatures making the weird and wonderful sounds we call singing or music what would they conclude? Why sing at all? Why these strange and wonderful sounds? Therein lies the mystery. Why is there such a thing as music, and why is it so consoling and enjoyable and moving?

Anthony Storr maintains that there is a closer relation between hearing and emotional arousal than there is between seeing and emotional arousal. He continues to ask the rhetorical question: “Why else would the makers of moving pictures insist on using music? (opus citatum., p. 26) Hearing is a more emotional sense than is seeing. We can see a wounded animal and not be moved, but let us hear the poor brute cry in pain and we are moved to our depths. In short music arouses our emotions more effectively than does any other sensual experience. As I type I am listening now to Pavarotti sing the beautiful Nessun Dorma. Those of my age and older recall well the opening ceremony of Italia 90 – the Soccer World Cup hosted by Italy in 1990 - especially because it was a marvellous occasion for us Irish as Jack Charlton had brought our team there. However, we recall this opening ceremony for another reason and that is that it launched this famous operatic tenor into popular stardom after his performance of Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini on the world stage. Throughout that World Cup the TV and Radio stations kept playing this tune as the signature tune of the event and it literally seeped into our souls. Our hearts still almost miss a beat when Pavarotti sings these tear-wringing words:

“Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
Il nomemio nessun saprà, no, no,
Sulla tua bocca lo dirò
Quando la luce splenderà,
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio
Che ti fa mia.”

“But my secret is hidden within me;
My name no one shall know, no, no,
On your mouth I will speak it
When the light shines,
And my kiss will dissolve the silence
That makes you mine.”

Pavarotti was also noted for being able to hit ever so naturally and with seeming ease the top C – some nine of them in Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment. Another of my favourites sung by Luciano is La Donna è Mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Still another of my preferred numbers is César Franck’s wonderful setting of the Panis Angelicus by St Thomas Aquinas.

It is said that shortly before he died Pavarotti wished to make a CD of religious and spiritual songs. Alas, this wonderful human being was not to get his wish fulfilled. However, he has left us a wonderful repertoire of work for our constant delight. Outside his official operatic appearances, Pavarotti did much for charity –he annually hosted the 'Pavarotti and Friends' charity concerts in his home town of Modena in Italy, joining with singers from all parts of the music industry to raise money for several worthy UN causes.

Also concerts were held for War Child, and victims of war and civil unrest in Bosnia, Guatemala, Kosovo and Iraq. After the war in Bosnia, he financed and established the Pavarotti Music Centre in the city of Mostar to offer Bosnia's artists the opportunity to develop their skills. For these contributions, the city of Sarajevo named him an honorary citizen in 2006.

So a great and wonderful voice is silent – Vox magna tacet. Resquiescat in Pace. The one and only way to honour this wonderfully gifted and kind human being is simply to listen to his music. Vox ad perpetuitatem vivet.

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