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We need to talk about Heaven.

February 25, 2014

Whatever Astaire and Rogers have to say, Heaven, according to the Psychedelic Furs, is the whole of a heart. Probably true, as it stands. But very few Furs songs can actually be understood on the basis of a single line. They are soaked in irony and (especially their early output) anger, thanks largely to the remarkable wordcraft of Richard Butler – one of the most gifted lyricists of all. Consider Get a Room: he manages to depict utter detachment; the relentlessly circular musical figures slap against the lyrics to leave me with a sense of a robotic despair. Thus it might be suggested that his pronouncements on heaven may not be the last word on the subject. But at least it is slightly more hopeful than the rather damning assessment offered by the Stranglers’ song Paradise – a punchy track from their underrated seventh album Feline. I won’t give away the message, because I think you should hear the song; suffice to say that the closing lyrics are unambiguous.

More conventional, in musical terms, is Belinda Carlisle’s assertion that Heaven is a Place on Earth. But hold on, there: what place, exactly? In the hope of starting a healthy debate I might make an early pitch for North Devon (which reminds me: we need to talk about Devon), and perhaps that won’t surprise those of you who have stayed with me over a little while. Others will have their own views, and of course they are to be respected unless they seriously wish to offer Romford or Croydon on a Saturday night: I know whereof I speak. The point is, though, that unless she is referring specifically to a certain nightclub in Charing Cross then La Belle Belinda is not much help.

So let’s look to music of an older vintage and see if we can’t get a bit more clarity. In Paradisum from Fauré’s sublime Requiem is concerned rather with the literal heaven than the achievement of a state of earthly bliss through, for example, love. This piece is staggeringly beautiful, and comes as close as any music does to a representation of purity. I can truly believe that a soul that found its way to Fauré’s paradise would be at peace. My only problem is that I think heaven needs a bit more, well, joy. So I need to keep looking, and perhaps I need to look in Eden.

Here, I confess, I did a little speculative surfing. And it paid off, because I came across a little gem. If you can bear to, click on this link to Eden and listen to it all the way through before looking to see who it’s by.

Hitting “replay” on a Sarah Brightman song is not something I expected to be doing. But I love this. It may not be difficult listening, but it is beautiful nevertheless. My assumption as to the kind of music that she sings and the kind of singer that she is has certainly been tested; even if she doesn’t end up quite delivering everything that I want in a musician, it shows how little I know and how much I have to learn. (Incidentally, the same album – Eden – opens with a very pretty In Paradisum of its own, on which Brightman receives a co-writing credit.)

The Halls of Asgard, perhaps? This rather epic-sounding piece by an artist I know nothing about – one Jonathan Zuniga – conjures an image of the dwelling place of the gods that might feature in a film score, though perhaps it does not quite match the grandeur of Haydn: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (The Heavens are telling God’s Glory) from The Creation. The idea of upbeat, major key, and above all loud choruses as part of the day to day routine of celestial existence is quite plausible, and yet I admire this rather than feel it deeply; music that portrays my heaven needs to get me right here. Wherever here is. Still, Haydn is not too wide of the mark, which suggests that Mozart may be the place to look.

Give me this and a dash of Mozart, and nunc dimittis. Eventually.

Give me this and a dash of Mozart, and nunc dimittis. Eventually.

There is a rumour to the effect that the angels sing Bach to God; but in their own time they sing Mozart to each other, and God listens in. This duet from Don Giovanni – La ci darem la mano – is highly inappropriate for divine ears, concerning, as it does, the attempt by a serial seducer to overcome the modesty of a young bride (not his own). But if there is anything in that rumour, God probably knows this piece fairly well.

A fortnight ago Mrs simonsometimessays and I saw – on a cinema screen – a live performance of Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera House. You might have seen it too – almost irrespective of where you may be reading this. Broadcasting top-drawer performances from opera houses and theatres around the world seems to have become a phenomenon. Hear, hear, say I. And to round off a wonderful performance in excellent surroundings, we stayed till the end credits and watched my clever brother’s name sliding up the screen. There’s nothing like a bit of reflected glory.

Glory! Of course, Glory! that’s what I’m looking for. Mozart, again: the Gloria from the Coronation Mass, and this spectacular performance has me grinning rapturously as I type. To the bemusement of the cats.

I wish you the same joy.

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2 Comments
  1. How about The Door’s cover of Gloria? Youtube it. Something a little baser but I’m sure a state like Heaven is achieved thanks to Gloria’s talents. 🙂

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