Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dies Irae

During college I took a music appreciation class. I am the furthest thing from a musician, but it was informative and I really enjoyed it. One of the more memorable pieces we studied was Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique. There is a part in the piece which depicts a witch and a beheading. 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 and you will start to hear it all over. 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 theme in a movie, let me know in the comments section so I can add it to my list. I try not to re-run posts, but I never got any feedback from this on my movie blog and thought more people could help me if I posted it here


Cheeseboy said...

Interesting. I always thought Nightmare Before Christmas was 100% original music. And now it is associated with Gremlins 2? I am so disappointed.

Kristina P. said...

Wow, that's really cool. I never noticed.

Eric said...

I love to take minor key horror type music and change to the major key to make the tune ironically happy.

Conversely, if you take a happy song (like Happy Birthday), and give it a minor key, it takes on a whole new meaning.

Anonymous said...

While watching a b-movie titled the Screaming Skull, I heard a variation of Dies Irae somewhat similar to the Shining's rendition in the opening credits. Just thought I'd let you know.

Anonymous said...

There's a variation of it in the Screaming Skull too. It sounds sort of like the Gregorian chant mixed with the Shining's rendition of it.