About Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves)
"Va, pensiero", also known in English as the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves", is a chorus from the third act of the opera Nabucco (1842) by Giuseppe Verdi, with a libretto by Temistocle Solera, inspired by Psalm 137. It recollects the story of Jewish exiles in Babylon after the loss of the First Temple in Jerusalem. The opera with its powerful chorus established Verdi as a major composer in 19th-century Italy.
Verdi composed Nabucco at a difficult moment in his life. His wife and small children had all just died. He had contracted with La Scala to write another opera and the director forced the libretto into his hands. Returning home, Verdi happened to open the libretto at "Va, pensiero" and seeing the phrase, he heard the words singing. At first rehearsal "the stagehands shouted their approval, then beat on the floor and the sets with their tools to create an even noisier demonstration". As he was subsequently to note, Verdi felt that "this is the opera with which my artistic career really begins. And though I had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star".
Upon Verdi's death, along his funeral's cortege in the streets of Milan, bystanders started spontaneous choruses of "Va, pensiero…" A month later, when he was reinterred alongside his wife at the 'Casa di Riposo', a young Arturo Toscanini conducted a choir of eight hundred in the famous hymn.
Fly, 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!
Mindful of the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or may the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.