REMEMBER the radio serial, ``I Love a Mystery''? I used to hurry to finish my homework so I could listen to it. (This doubly dates me, for nowadays, evidently, no one can do homework unless the radio is playing full blast!) Among the fascinations of that long-ago serial was its haunting, definitely mysterious signature music. It perfectly set the tone for the dramatized stories, and I was very surprised many years later at a Pops concert to discover that it was not written for the show -- they had been using Jean Sibelius's ``Valse Triste.''
During the same period when I listened to ``I Love a Mystery,'' I also followed ``The March of Time,'' not the least of whose attractions was its stirring theme march. If I thought of its composer at all, it was probably to surmise that it was some Hollywood music man like Dmitri Tiomkin. Imagine my amazement long afterward when I attended a performance of Prokofiev's ``The Love of Three Oranges,'' and there was that rousing ``marche'' in its original setting!
Just as ``Valse Triste'' still evokes ``I Love a Mystery,'' and Prokofiev's march ``The March of Time,'' so for years did Jean Joseph Mouret's ``Rondeau'' from his ``First Symphonic Suite'' mean Masterpiece Theatre to me. Until we went to Narbonne....
We hadn't planned to go to Narbonne, but we had had a long day on the Auto-route, going from the Rhine toward Barcelona, and the medieval towers of Narbonne beckoned us late in the after-noon.
We were soon registered in a small, charming hotel in the historic center of the city, and, as we usually do after hours on the road, set off on foot to see the sights and to reconnoiter a place for dinner.
To our great delight we discovered that we had arrived on the eve of Narbonne's 2,100th birthday. This was awesome. The United States goes crazy when it can celebrate a hundredth birthday. But 2,100 years! That's an occasion!
We enjoyed our stroll, which included the medieval Cathedral St. Just, and then located an attractive restaurant on the main square that featured a Nar-bonne specialty, moules (mussels).
Our table looked out across the square, and for a good 15 minutes (we timed it) we were entertained by the endless embrace of a young couple, who finally unpeeled themselves from each other, and the girl rode off on her motorbike. Then we were free to watch the rest of the traffic in the square, which consisted almost entirely of one pedestrian group after another going up a certain side street.
So after dinner, it still being quite light, we decided to walk back to our hotel via that magnetic side street. It turned out to lead by a different way than we had taken in the afternoon to the Cathedral St. Just.
And it also turned out that everyone had come there for a free concert (honoring the 2,100th birthday) which was just about to start. We squeezed in.
There was a brass band -- five trumpets, four trombones, and a tuba. The opening selection was Mouret's ``Rondeau.'' It was a moment of transcendent drama and emotion. The acoustics in the nave with its towering ceiling were superb. I still get goosebumps thinking of the combination of the glorious music, the candlelit setting, and the continuity of history.
You can see why that stirring trumpet fanfare will now always recall the unexpected birthday party in Narbonne.