Classicism

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The sequence Dies Irae (mp3source
Gregorian Chant - Sequences
Gregorian Chant – Sequences. By: Capella Antiqua München; Konrad Ruhland (Sony SBK 61868)
)
is part of the Requiem Mass, which is celebrated for the departed. In threatening words, the Dies Irae announces the final judgment: “Day of wrath! O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets’ warning, Heaven and earth in ashes burning!”. On that day, when history will end, creation will have to give an account of itself to God. Who could exist in such a judgment? It, therefore, is no surprise that the last part of the text is a prayer for the soul’s eternal rest.

This text has been set to music very often; in most cases as part of a Requiem. The earliest Requiem that includes the Dies Irae, is the one by Antoine Brumel (c.1460-1512/3) (mp3source
Antoine Brumel - Missa 'Et ecce terrae motus', Sequentia 'Dies Irae'
Antoine Brumel – Missa ‘Et ecce terrae motus’, Sequentia ‘Dies Irae’. By: Huelgas Ensemble; Paul van Nevel (Sony SK 46348)

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)
. In the course of music history, the binding with the original gregorian melody declines. The Italian composer Antonio Lotti (1660-1740) provided completely new music for the Dies Irae: (mp3source
Antonio Lotti - Requiem
Antonio Lotti – Requiem. By: Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und -Ensemble; Thomas Hengelbrock (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77507 2)

Details: Amazon.com
)
. A few decades later, Mozart composed his a Dies Irae as part of his Requiem, which is a personal document rather than liturgical music. He used more expressive means than his predecessors to display the overwhelming character of the Dies Irae (mp3source
W.A. Mozart - Requiem
W.A. Mozart – Requiem. By: Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMX 2901620)

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)
. This development was carried on further in the nineteenth century, in which the approach became more and more megalomaniac. An impressive climax is the Dies Irae (1874) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) in which the final judgement is announced with thundering violence (here in a performance conducted by Claudio Abbado):

Thus, the text of the Dies Irae was widely used without its original melody. The opposite also happened often: the gregorian melody has been included in many instrumental works, especially the opening motif: (mp3source
Gregorian Chant - Sequences
Gregorian Chant – Sequences. By: Capella Antiqua München; Konrad Ruhland (Sony SBK 61868)
)
. Within the nineteenth-century Romantic movement, in which artists were fascinated by such notions as transiency, lunacy, morbidity, ruins, night and death, this melody became a symbol for threath, darkness and decease. One of the earliest examples can be found in the fifth movement of the Symphonie Fantastique (1830) by Hector Berlioz, which depicts a witches’ sabath (mp3source
Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique. By: New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta (Decca 448 987-2)
)
. Another famous example is the Dance Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, a symphonic poem that has a poem by Henri Cazalis about death as its program (mp3source
Saint-Saëns - Dance Macabre
Saint-Saëns – Dance Macabre. By: Philharmonia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyung Wha Chung (Decca 425 021-2)

Details: Amazon.com
)
. Also the composer Sergej Rachmaninoff was obsessed by the theme. In numerous of his instrumental works the characteristic motif is cited. For instance in the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead (1909), which is related to the painting Die Toteninsel by Arnold Böcklin. After a climax, a passage follows in which one by one various instruments play the Dies Irae theme (mp3source
Rachmaninov - Symphony No.1 - Isle of the Dead
Rachmaninov – Symphony No.1 – Isle of the Dead. By: The Philharmonia; Jacek Kaspszyk (Collins 12132)
)
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Böcklin - Toteninsel (third version, 1883)
Böcklin – Toteninsel (third version, 1883)

Recommended cd’s

Antoine Brumel - Missa 'Et ecce terrae motus', Sequentia 'Dies Irae'
Antoine Brumel – Missa ‘Et ecce terrae motus’, Sequentia ‘Dies Irae’. By: Huelgas Ensemble; Paul van Nevel (Sony SK 46348)

Details: Amazon.com

Antonio Lotti - Requiem
Antonio Lotti – Requiem. By: Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und -Ensemble; Thomas Hengelbrock (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77507 2)

Details: Amazon.com

W.A. Mozart - Requiem
W.A. Mozart – Requiem. By: Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMX 2901620)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Saint-Saëns - Dance Macabre
Saint-Saëns – Dance Macabre. By: Philharmonia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyung Wha Chung (Decca 425 021-2)

Details: Amazon.com

Verdi - Messa da Requiem
Verdi – Messa da Requiem. By: Claudio Abbado (EMI CDC 5 57168 2)

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DVD Verdi Requiem
DVD Verdi Requiem. By: Claudio Abbado (EMI 926949)

Details: Amazon.com