Music to Die For

What does a 12thC leper King and a great 13thC Italian poet have in common in the 21st century?

I’d like to dedicate this post to one of the most beautiful and stirring pieces of movie music I’ve ever heard. But first, in answer to the question above, historically Christian King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Durante degli Alighieri, more commonly known as Dante, probably had little in common, given that King Baldwin was born in Jerusalem in 1161 and Dante, just over 100 years later in 1265 in Florence but my search for an answer to this music brought them together for me.

The music in question is called Vide Cor Meum (See my heart) and without doubt it goes past the heart and touches the soul. Even if you are completely unfamiliar to Italian opera, (and I am no expert at all) you’d have to be made of stone for this not to seize or embrace you in some way. During my search, I did read where one lady wanted it for her wedding. I could think of nothing less appropriate. For sure it is about love, but it is sung so passionately and in such tortured fashion, it could only be about unrequited love or love lost. Turns out I was not so far from the truth.

Enter my 13thC Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, a major influence from the Middle Ages. The composition was inspired by Dante’s La Vita Nuova (The New Life) –  in which Dante describes a vision but in real life it was unfulfilled love. When Dante was nine years old he met and fell in love with Beatrice. In La Vita Nuova he is smitten but he does not see her again until he is eighteen and she says ‘hello.’ He returns to his room and ‘thinking of her, sweet sleep overcame him.’ He has a vision of Love holding Beatrice who is wrapped in a veil. In one of Love’s hands is a heart on fire. Love says to Dante ‘ I am your master – see your heart,’ then offers the burning heart to Beatrice which she consumes. Love then becomes sad and takes Beatrice up to Heaven. Beatrice died at the age of 24 and Dante wrote La Vita Nuova two years later.

Vide Cor Meum was composed by Patrick Cassidy, an Irishman now living in LA and his aria is the only piece by a living composer on Warner Classics 2006 compilation 40 Most Beautiful Arias. It was produced by Hans Zimmer. For those familiar with wonderful pieces of movie music, it will come as no surprise Zimmer was involved somewhere.

It was written for a background scene in the most unlikely of movies – Hannibal! In Hannibal there is a scene with an Italian opera in the background and that is where you will hear this beautiful piece.

Vide cor meum opera

But it also appeared again in 2005 in the movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and here it belonged to a scene far more poignant. Enter King Baldwin IV.

In 1174 Baldwin IV of Jerusalem became king when he was just thirteen years old and, despite suffering from lepromatous leprosy, the most deadly form of the disease, ruled until 1185. Although the movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ has Hollywood’s usual flaws when it comes to putting history on the big screen, the portrayal of King Baldwin is that of a wise and kind king. It is known that he was an excellent battle leader and strove to frustrate Saladin’s imperial ambitions. His death scene is a memorable and touching one and to the sweet sad notes of Vide Cor Meum his sister, Sybilla, says her final goodbye, privately unmasking his face to witness the horror her brother had suffered for so long. The music is perfectly at home in this heart-wrenching scene.

I have included two links here to experience this wonderful composition. One was made as a tribute to King Baldwin IV from the movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’  –

King Baldwin       King Baldwin - 2

and the other allows you to enjoy the lyrics –

220px-Dante-alighieri   Dante Alighieri

Oh, and I can complete the circle. Though his face is never seen in ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ the character of Baldwin is played by Edward Norton who also played the first FBI agent to arrest Hannibal!

I hope you love it as much as I do.

Cathy T

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3 thoughts on “Music to Die For

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