November 2012

"Dies Irae" from Requiem Mass in D Minor, K. 626

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

We introduced Mozart back in August 2010. He is one of the most famous classical composers to have ever lived. He spent most of his time in Vienna, Austria, and died when he was 35.

Near the time of his death, in 1791, Count Franz von Walsegg anonymously commissioned a requiem mass to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of his wife. He had sent half the payment with the commission, which came at a time of great financial need for Mozart. The commission came in mid-1791, but Mozart would die December 5, 1791, leaving the work uncompleted. Anxious to receive the money for the job, Mozart's wife Constanze worked with Franz Xaver Süssmayr to finish the work, but pass it off to Count Walsegg as if Mozart had written the entire work.

There is still quite a bit of mystery around this particular work. There were several rumors and stories (some started by Constanze herself) that have perpetuated many myths. Most recently, in the movie Amadeus (based on a play by Peter Shaffer in 1979, which itself was based on a 19th century play Mozart and Salieri by Alexander Pushkin) portrayed the idea that Antonio Salieri anonymously commissioned the requiem and intended it to be for Mozart himself. This story, while interesting, is considered false on several points.

A requiem mass is religious music that is to be performed at someone's funeral (or the commemoration of someone's death). It typically follows several Latin texts from the Catholic liturgy. One of the movements commonly included is the "Dies Irae" (pronounced DEE-ess EER-ray).

The text for "Dies Irae" is thought to have been written in the 13th century. It's about Judgment Day, or the Second Coming of Christ. It's a fairly long poem, but the Mozart Requiem only included the first two stanzas. I'll include them here, along with pronunciation and translation.

Dies iræ! Dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

DEE-ess EER-ray! DEE-ess EE-lah
SOL-vet SAY-kloom een fah-VEE-lah
TEH-steh DAH-veed koom sih-BEE-lah!

KWAHN-toos TREH-moor est foo-CHURE-roos,
KWAHN-doh JOO-dex est ven-CHURE-roos,
KOONK-tah STREEK-tay DEE-skoo-SOOR-roos!

The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the sibyll

How much tremor there will be,
when the judge will come,
investigating everything strictly!

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

I probably first heard this piece in 1984 with the release of the movie "Amadeus". The piece was played in a few places toward the end of the film.

To date, I've never performed it, but I think it would be a cool performance to be a part of (instrumentally or vocally).


And now, here is "Dies Irae" from Requiem Mass in D Minor. Enjoy!

"Dies Irae" from Requiem Mass in D Minor, K. 626 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1:53)

For those interested, this recording is from the soundtrack to the movie "Amadeus", and was performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy Chorus conducted by Laszlo Heltay.

Jon's Interpretation:

Mozart's later work, and particularly his pieces in a minor key, are really great. This is no exception. This provides a lot of power and passion.

Extra Credit:

Here's the conductor's score:

Conductor's Score for "Dies Irae" from Requiem Mass in D Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

I was recently reminded of this piece thanks to Pixar. This was featured in the short "Jack-Jack Attack". I've included a clip of it here. Be sure to note the music when Jack-Jack bursts into flame. Enjoy!