Anyone who knows anything about opera understands the lore and legend of Va pensiero. We also know that when it was conducted by the great Arturo Toscanini, it is as close to having it conducted by Verdi as we can possibly get today. Toscanini played the piece during Verdi’s massive funeral cortege in 1901 in Milan. Verdi composed the piece not long after his wife and children had died. It was a lament from his heart. It was also a lament about Italy, nationalism, independence, and the corrupting influence of foreign invaders. It was and still is about patriotism.
Go, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!
Greet the banks of the Jordan
and Zion’s toppled towers…
Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost!
Oh, remembrance, so dear and so fatal!
Golden harp of the prophetic seers,
why dost thou hang mute upon the willow?
Rekindle our bosom’s memories,
and speak to us of times gone by!
Oh you akin to the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
oh may the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.