Friday, January 22, 2010

Dies Irae

During college I took a music appreciation class. I am the furthest thing from a musician, but it was an informative class and I really enjoyed it. One of the more memorable pieces we studied was Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique.

My instructor pointed out the Dies Irae melody during that song. Dies Irae means "day of wrath." It is a Latin hymn that was later adopted as a death mass. It is quite old, and I have been surprised how many movies I have heard the basic melody in over the years.

It is not as common as the Wilhelm scream, but once you are familiar with the melody, it jumps out at you. One of the first musicians to use it was Paganini. He was such an accomplished violinist that it was rumored that he sold his soul to the devil in order to play the way he did. He incorporated the Dies Irae into some of his pieces, which only furthered the rumor. Other classical composers who have utilized it in their music are: Berlioz, Mozart, Liszt, Respeghi, Britten, Saint-Saenz, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov.

Today this theme is often associated with many horror movies and even some not so scary films. After hearing it many times in movie soundtracks, I started to keep a list. (No, not for an any assignment. I'm just a list guy). Here are some of the movies that use the melody or a variation of it at some point in the film.

The Shining
Sleeping with the Enemy
Conan the Barbarian
Groundhog Day
The Seventh Seal
Gremlins 2
The Lion King
The Ring
X Men
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
It's a Wonderful Life
Murder in the First
Nightmare before Christmas

In case you aren't familiar with it, here is an audio clip link where you can hear it. I am always trying to expand my list, but I can only watch so many movies. Next time you hear this in a movie, let me know in the comments section so I can add it to my list.


Anonymous said...

Dies Irae is used in several Friday the 13th/Jason Voorhees films. Surprise surprise.

Tom said...

I just heard it last week again while watching Season of the Witch.

Anonymous said...

The first four notes of Dies Irae can be heard repeated over and over in the background of The Omen theme.

Anonymous said...

It's in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.

Anthony said...

Pirates 4 when the Spaniards are destroying the fountain of youth

Anonymous said...

I heard it in Sweeny Todd

luke said...

hi Tom,

I like your blog you pot on the topic "dies irae"

are you still up to date in nowadays movie, the theme is used in films?

Kind regards from Germany,

Anonymous said...

You can hear it in the intro to "The Screaming Skull"

Anonymous said...

It is used a lot in "The Road to El Dorado" as Cortez's theme.

Anonymous said...

It also appears as the basis for the Exorcist's main theme, and you can also hear it in It's a Wonderful Life, and also in the background of Hellfire from the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Anonymous said...

It's used in "The Car"(1977)

Anonymous said...

It is in fact in Sweeney Todd and many of Sondheim's pieces

Anonymous said...

Star Wars IV uses it after the death of Luke's uncle and aunt.
Rogue One uses it heavily in the third act.
LOTR uses variations of it.

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