Song of India (revisited)

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Derek McGovern

Jun 30, 2014, 11:34:30 AM6/30/14
We already have a thread on Lanza's beautiful recording of this song, but since it's long "expired" (and, for once, I can't reactivate it), I thought I'd start a new thread here. To start the ball rolling, here's a post from Vince that I just received today:

I was listening to Mario's "Song of India" yesterday & as usual I was
transported to a magical & wonderful place & it made me try to put
some images to the music... I always had the most beautiful pictures
in my head when I would listen to Mario's fantastically phrased
singing & to be honest I would never find images to match what my
imagination has conjured up on the many many moments of listening to
this magical recording... But I gave it a try this evening I thought I
would share it...

Sorry if the visuals are a bit obvious & literal :-)

Thanks, Vince: I'll be checking out your latest feat of editing later today.


Derek McGovern

Jun 30, 2014, 11:35:18 AM6/30/14
Hi Vince: Those images must have taken you hours to find! I really enjoyed the slide show.

I know what you mean, though, about no pictures being able to do justice to the images that Mario conjures up here. Truly one of his greatest recordings.


Mike McAdam

Nov 25, 2010, 10:12:05 PM11/25/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Hey Vince:
great to see you back in fine fettle with those creative multimedia
chops on full dispaly once more.
You've done a lovely job here and yes, the stunning images may be very
literal but they coincide with the images that are playing in my mind
every time I listen to this great Lanza piece. The minarets, the
raven, the plane flying into the've chosen some wonderful,
surreal photography and, me being a guy who loves to do this type of
thing (albeit more on the audio side), I'm jealous!
Marvelous work, Signore diPlacido.


On Nov 25, 9:29 pm, Derek McGovern <> wrote:
> Hi Vince: Those images must have taken you hours to find! I really
> enjoyed the slide show, and I've just made a link to it from our new
> site (which will be opening in a couple of months; can't wait to
> unveil it!).
> I know what you mean, though, about no pictures being able to do
> justice to the images that Mario conjures up here. Truly one of his
> greatest recordings.
> Cheers
> Derek
> > **********************************************
> > Thanks, Vince: I'll be checking out your latest feat of editing later
> > today.
> > And here's the link to our earlier "Song of India" thread:
> > Hide quoted text -
> - Show quoted text -

Jan Hodges

Nov 26, 2010, 12:59:38 AM11/26/10
Hi Vince.
    That was really excellent. Song of India is one of my favourite English language songs that Mario sang.

Vince Di Placido

Nov 26, 2010, 4:58:27 PM11/26/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Mike & Jan you are too kind, glad you enjoyed it!
Derek, you are spot on, it took me hours to find the images... but
only a fraction of that time to then actually put it together...
Of all Mario's recordings this is the one that I have always wanted to
try & put visuals to... Just wish I had had my imagination's wish list
of possible dream photos to use... Oh! Well...
I would love to have access to all the great footage & photos of
Mario, I mean I'm being greedy here I want EVERYTHING I could put
together some great stuff...

Vince Di Placido

Nov 27, 2010, 5:48:16 PM11/27/10
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Derek (& everybody else) I uploaded a better quality file of that
"Song of India" here is the link...

Gary Maidens

Dec 27, 2010, 6:41:50 PM12/27/10
Hi Vince,

I love the editing you did with The Song Of India. Since I was a mere boy I have loved this song and never tire of hearing it played.The pictures you have displayed are so "perfect", and very similar to my own imaginative pictures, I have posted in my own memory vault, for many years. With this song I can also picture Mario singing it,dressed in beautifully coloured garb from India,and of course he is sporting a beautiful beard, and his eyes are sparkling.
Thanks Vince,

Vincent Di Placido

Dec 29, 2010, 12:48:58 PM12/29/10
Great to see you posting again, Gary! You have been missed :-)
Glad you liked Song of India, I know you have mentioned how much you love this Mario masterpiece. It is a very special recording...
Message has been deleted

Derek McGovern

Dec 26, 2012, 6:39:29 AM12/26/12
Given that our latest trivia question was on "Song of India," I thought I'd take the opportunity of merging two old threads that we had on this recording. Here are posts from Vince, Muriella, Ann-Mai (whatever happened to her?!), and me from way back that you may want to revisit (or read for the first time).

Derek McGovern 25 November 2007

And still the snowy Himalayas rise,
In ancient majesty before our eyes,
Beyond the plains, above the pines.
While through the ever never changing land,
As silently as any native band,
That moves at night, the Ganges shines.
Then I hear the song that only India can sing,
Softer than the plumage on a black raven's wing.
High upon a minaret I stand
And gaze across the desert sand,
Upon an old enchanted land
There the Maharajah's caravan,
Unfolding like a painted fan,
How small the little race of man.
See them all parade across the ages,
Armies, kings and slaves from history's pages,
Played on one of nature's vastest stages.

The turbaned Sikhs and beggars line the streets,
While holy men in shadow town retreats,
Pray through the night and watch the stars,
A lonely plane flies off to meet the dawn,
While down below the busy life goes on,
And women crowd the old bazaars.
All are in the song that only India can sing,
India, the jewel of the East!

What magnificent words! These are the lyrics that Johnny Mercer wrote for this adaptation of the Song of the Indian Guest from Rimsky-Korsakoff's opera Sadko. And what a rendition from Mario! I regard the Song of India as one of his finest achievements, vocally and stylistically. It was recorded in June 1953 and, like the magnificent remake of Beloved that he'd made exactly four weeks earlier for the soundtrack of The Student Prince, features that new-found richness in his timbre---not to mention the same wonderful phrasing. This is a singer who can do anything with his voice---a talent matched only by his magical way with words here.

Some of the outstanding moments for me: the wonderful vocal attack on "Armies, kings and slaves from history's pages" and the way he places equal emphasis on both "beggars" and "holy" (men) in "The turbaned Sikhs and beggars line the streets/While holy men in shadow town retreats"... and  "A *lonely* plane flies off to meet the dawn"...and, of course, the richness in his voice on "bazaars". Oh, there are so many highlights in this marvellous feat of storytelling.

The 25-year-old Jussi Bjoerling does a wonderful job of this number too---singing it in Swedish! It's one of his most plaintive, lyrical recordings, and you can hear it on youtube:

His middle register is quite beautiful here. (I'm not as keen on one of his high notes, though.) And Bjorling's version - apart from the fact that his rendition is not in the original Russian - is sung as it's actually performed in Sadko (a wonderfully melodic opera, by the way). The arrangement that Mario sings is more dramatic in conception and has a much more spectacular ending than the original, low-key finish.

Comparing the two performances, I'd have to say that Bjorling's is simply melancholic---and stays that way for the entire aria---while Mario's offers a range of emotions. So while they're both splendid recordings in their own right, I know which one I'd be taking to that proverbial desert island :-)


Vince 26 November 2007

Oh! The Song of India! 
Derek, I absolutely ADORE this recording by Mario & yes I especially love the lines, 

"The turbaned Sikhs and beggars line the streets, 
While holy men in shadow town retreats, 
Pray through the night and watch the stars, 
A lonely plane flies off to meet the dawn, 
While down below the busy life goes on, 
And women crowd the old bazaars." 

I always see those stars & that plane fly off when I hear this recording, there is just a wonderful overall beautiful image created by Mario in this amazingly evocative performance. 
Of course the lyrics are great to start with but with a singer as fantastically gifted interpretively as Mario it becomes a little masterpiece. I know I will never ever tire of this recording & a lovely feeling comes over me when I here the first notes & I know for the next few moments I am going to be in a musical nirvana. 


Derek McGovern 26 November 2007

One of the extraordinary things about the Song of India, I feel, is that Lanza recorded it at a time when his world was falling apart. He had been dismissed by MGM, and he was now having to come to terms with the certainty that the role he most wanted to play - that of the Student Prince - would be filmed by another actor. On top of this, he was facing severe financial difficulties, not to mention a growing dependency on alcohol. Can you imagine a gloomier backdrop for any artist walking into a recording studio? 
On the basis of all the above, you'd expect Mario to sound as he does on the depressing Lanza on Broadway album of three years later. And yet what do we find? That Lanza is in perhaps the best vocal form of his life to date here - yes, vocally even more impressive than he was on The Student Prince the previous year - and singing poetically with 
a new-found sense of maturity and authority. The man was full of surprises! 
It's interesting, by the way, that one of the lines here was actually a retake: "See them all parade across the ages." Thank God he re-recorded this single line, as he went quite astray on it the first time round. Had he not done so, it would have stuck out like a sore thumb on an otherwise classic rendition. 
With the man in such terrific vocal and interpretive shape here, what wouldn't I have given for him to have recorded an entire album of arias that same month?! 


Muriel 26 November 2007

Hi Derek: This is a wonderful treatise on Song Of India. Considering Mario's poor state of mind at this time, it's a wonder he could function at all. Perhaps the beauty of the song took him away from his troubles for a time? Music is a powerful remedy for the soul....M. 


Ann-Mai 30 November 2007

Song of India is for sure gorgeously sung by Mario. I haven't really been aware of its beauty until now, so I'm glad you brought it up, Derek. It does have many splendid highlights. You pointed out the line 'Armies, kings and slaves from history's pages'. To me it sounds like Mario is singing the word 'slaves' with just a touch of pain in his voice - brilliant! 
And you are right: it is much more colored and vivid than Björling's rendition, which I also enjoyed. Thank you for the link. It is quite interesting how different these renditions are. The lyrics in Swedish differ a lot from the English. It has none of the historic characters or descriptions of life in India, Mario is singing about. 

Björling is singing about a hidden cliff on the beach of India - the land of wonders - which holds a pearl which can be seen in dreams. The middle part is about the sea and the sky, and how the bird Phoenix is flying high up towards space, while hearing the beautiful tones of a song and by the power of his wings forces the daylight to lighten up the song. Beautiful lyrics, but with a very different meaning. 

Isn't the middle part, melodically, very different too? To me they almost sound like two different songs, or is it just me? 
Both of them very enjoyable, just the same. 


Derek 30 November 2007

Hi Ann-Mai 

Glad you're enjoying this thread! 

Yes, the Bjoerling performance is a beautiful one; in fact, it's inspired me to listen to more of his recordings on YouTube, including this 1960 live performance of the aria In Fernem Land from Lohengrin. (One of the few Wagner arias that I like!) Bjoerling was seriously ill with heart problems by this stage, and died a short time later. But, as you can hear, the voice was still intact. The high notes are (understandably) a bit on the strenuous side, but I like his plangent middle register here: 

Getting back to the Song of India, though... 

Yes, the two pieces are quite different melodically - particularly in the middle section, as you noticed. The Song of India is a fairly loose adaptation of the Sadko aria that Bjoerling sings, but it's an excellent one! I find it very clever how the arrangers have built up the declamatory middle section (very difficult to sing too, I'm sure!), ironically making it more aria-like in structure than the original piece, with the drama here making a beautiful contrast to the lovely reprise melody that follows. They've also altered the melody quite seamlessly so that the changes never sound "tacked-on" by other hands, so to speak. This could so easily have gone all wrong! 

A great piece of music enhanced by inspired lyrics...and given an equally inspired interpretation by a singer at the very top of his game. What more could anyone want?! 

Message has been deleted

Derek McGovern

Jun 30, 2014, 11:35:52 AM6/30/14
Mario Lanza's rendition of the "Song of India" was my father's all-time favourite Lanza recording, and so in his memory I'd like to revive this delightful thread.

And don't forget to watch Vince's beautiful video of the recording set to appropriate images:

Edward Mendes

Apr 16, 2024, 7:38:18 PMApr 16
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
What a rendition by Mario Lanza! One of the most passionately expressive tenors I have ever heard!

Does anyone know where I can find the score of this (Johnny Mercer's) arrangement?

PS-I've been asked to sing it for a concert, but I just cannot find the score :( 

Derek McGovern

Apr 16, 2024, 7:41:05 PMApr 16
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Hi Edward: The sheet music is currently being sold on on Ebay for US$7.97:


Edward Mendes

Apr 21, 2024, 8:22:34 AMApr 21
to Mario Lanza, Tenor
Thanks a million Derek!

I will try to pick this up! It seems to be a very rare score!

I hope I do justice to the song!

To be honest, given that the last activity in this thread was almost 10 years ago, I did not expect a response!

Thanks once again 🙏🏼
Edward Mendes
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