"Dies irae" (Ecclesiastical Latin: [ˈdi.es ˈi.re]; "the Day of Wrath") is a Latin sequence attributed to either Thomas of Celano of the Franciscans (1200–1265) or to Latino Malabranca Orsini (d. 1294), lector at the Dominican studium at Santa Sabina, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome. The sequence dates from the 13th century at the latest, though it is possible that it is much older, with some sources ascribing its origin to St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), or Bonaventure (1221–1274).
It is a medieval Latin poem characterized by its accentual stress and rhymed lines. The metre is trochaic. The poem describes the Last Judgment, the trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames.
The first melody set to these words, a Gregorian chant, is one of the most quoted in musical literature, appearing in the works of many composers. The final couplet, Pie Jesu, has been often reused as an independent song.
Use in the Roman liturgyEdit
The "Dies irae" has been used in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite liturgy as the sequence for the Requiem Mass for centuries, as made evident by the important place it holds in musical settings such as those by Mozart and Verdi. It appears in the Roman Missal of 1962, the last edition before the implementation of the revisions that occurred after the Second Vatican Council. As such, it is still heard in churches where the Tridentine Latin liturgy is celebrated. It also formed part of the pre-conciliar liturgy of All Souls' Day.
In the reforms to the Catholic Church’s Latin liturgical rites ordered by the Second Vatican Council, the "Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy", the Vatican body charged with drafting and implementing the reforms (1969–70), eliminated the sequence as such from funerals and other Masses for the Dead. A leading figure in the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, explains the rationale of the Consilium:
They got rid of texts that smacked of a negative spirituality inherited from the Middle Ages. Thus they removed such familiar and even beloved texts as "Libera me, Domine", "Dies irae", and others that overemphasized judgment, fear, and despair. These they replaced with texts urging Christian hope and arguably giving more effective expression to faith in the resurrection.
The Latin text below is taken from the Requiem Mass in the 1962 Roman Missal. The first English version below, translated by William Josiah Irons in 1849, albeit from a slightly different Latin text, replicates the rhyme and metre of the original. This translation, edited for more conformance to the official Latin, is approved by the Catholic Church for use as the funeral Mass sequence in the liturgy of the Anglican ordinariate. The second English version is a more formal equivalence translation.
|Original||Approved adaptation||Formal equivalence|
Dies iræ, dies illa,
Day of wrath and doom impending!
The day of wrath, that day,
Because the last two stanzas differ markedly in structure from the preceding stanzas, some scholars consider them to be an addition made in order to suit the great poem for liturgical use. The penultimate stanza, Lacrimosa, discards the consistent scheme of rhyming triplets in favour of a pair of rhyming couplets. The last stanza, Pie Iesu, abandons rhyme for assonance, and, moreover, its lines are catalectic.
In the liturgical reforms of 1969–71, stanza 19 was deleted and the poem divided into three sections: 1–6 (for Office of Readings), 7–12 (for Lauds) and 13–18 (for Vespers). In addition, "Qui Mariam absolvisti" in stanza 13 was replaced by "Peccatricem qui solvisti" so that that line would now mean, "You who absolved the sinful woman". This was because modern scholarship denies the common mediæval identification of the woman taken in adultery with Mary Magdalene, so Mary could no longer be named in this verse. In addition, a doxology is given after stanzas 6, 12 and 18:
|Original||Approved adaptation||Formal equivalence|
O tu, Deus majestatis,
O God of majesty
The text of the sequence is found, with slight verbal variations, in a 13th-century manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III at Naples. It is a Franciscan calendar missal that must date between 1253 and 1255 for it does not contain the name of Clare of Assisi, who was canonized in 1255, and whose name would have been inserted if the manuscript were of later date.
Dies iræ, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiæ, dies calamitatis et miseriæ, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulæ et turbinis, dies tubæ et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.
That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. (Douay–Rheims Bible)
Other images come from the Book of Revelation, such as Revelation 20:11–15 (the book from which the world will be judged), Matthew 25:31–46 (sheep and goats, right hand, contrast between the blessed and the accursed doomed to flames), 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (trumpet), 2 Peter 3:7 (heaven and earth burnt by fire), and Luke 21:26 ("men fainting with fear... they will see the Son of Man coming").
Day of judgment! Day of wonders!
Hark! the trumpet's awful sound,
Louder than a thousand thunders,
Shakes the vast creation round!
How the summons will the sinner's heart confound!
Jan Kasprowicz, a Polish poet, wrote a hymn entitled "Dies iræ" which describes the Judgment day. The first six lines (two stanzas) follow the original hymn's metre and rhyme structure, and the first stanza translates to "The trumpet will cast a wondrous sound".
The American writer Ambrose Bierce published a satiric version of the poem in his 1903 book Shapes of Clay, preserving the original metre but using humorous and sardonic language; for example, the second verse is rendered:
Ah! what terror shall be shaping
When the Judge the truth's undraping –
Cats from every bag escaping!
The Rev. Bernard Callan (1750–1804), an Irish priest and poet, translated it into Gaelic around 1800. His version is included in a Gaelic prayer book, The Spiritual Rose.
- Walter Scott used the first two stanzas in the sixth canto of his narrative poem "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" (1805).
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used the first, the sixth and the seventh stanza of the hymn in the scene "Cathedral" in the first part of his drama Faust (1808).
- Oscar Wilde's "Sonnet on Hearing the Dies Iræ Sung in the Sistine Chapel" (Poems, 1881), contrasts the "terrors of red flame and thundering" depicted in the hymn with images of "life and love".
- In Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera, Erik (the Phantom) has the chant displayed on the wall of his funereal bedroom.
- It is the inspiration for the title and major theme of the 1964 novel Deus Iræ by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny. The English translation is used verbatim in Dick's novel Ubik two years later.
The words of "Dies iræ" have often been set to music as part of the Requiem service. In some settings, it is broken up into several movements; in such cases, "Dies iræ" refers only to the first of these movements, the others being titled according to their respective incipits.
In 5-line staff notation:
The earliest surviving polyphonic setting of the Requiem by Johannes Ockeghem does not include "Dies iræ". The first polyphonic settings to include the "Dies iræ" are by Engarandus Juvenis (1490) and Antoine Brumel (1516) to be followed by many composers of the renaissance. Later, many notable choral and orchestral settings of the Requiem including the sequence were made by composers such as Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, and Stravinsky.
- Marc-Antoine Charpentier – Prose des morts – Dies iræ H. 12 (1670)
- Joseph Haydn – Symphony No. 103, "The Drumroll" (1795)
- Hector Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique (1830), Requiem (1837)
- Charles-Valentin Alkan – Souvenirs: Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique, Op. 15 (No. 3: Morte) (1837)
- Franz Liszt – Totentanz (1849)
- Charles Gounod – Faust opera, act 4 (1859)
- Teofil Klonowski - Preludes on Polish Church Hymns: Dies Irae (1867)
- Jules Massenet - Eve (1874)
- Modest Mussorgsky – Songs and Dances of Death, No. 3 "Trepak" (1875)
- Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre, Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony), Requiem (1878)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Modern Greek Song (In Dark Hell) Op. 16 No. 6 (1872), 6 Pieces on a Single Theme op 21 (1873), Orchestral Suite No. 3 (1884), Manfred Symphony  (1885)
- Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 2, movements 1 and 5 (1888–94)
- Johannes Brahms – Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118, No. 6, Intermezzo in E-flat minor (1893)
- Alexander Glazunov – From the Middle Ages Suite, No. 2 "Scherzo", Op. 79 (1902)
- Sergei Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 1 (1891); Symphony No. 1, Op. 13 (1895); Suite No. 2, Op. 17 (1901); Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 (1906–07); Piano sonata No. 1 (1908); Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 (1908); The Bells choral symphony, Op. 35 (1913); Études-Tableaux, Op. 39 No. 2, 7 (1916); Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 40 (1926); Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (1934); Symphony No. 3, Op. 44 (1935–36); Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (1940)
- Hans Huber quotes the melody in the second movement ("Funeral March") of his Symphony No. 3 in C major, Op. 118 (Heroic, 1908).
- Alexander Kastalsky – Requiem for Fallen Brothers, movements 3 and 4 (1917) 
- Gustav Holst – The Planets, movement 5, "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age"
- Nikolai Myaskovsky – Symphony No. 6, Op. 23 (1921–23)
- Eugène Ysaÿe – Solo Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 27, No. 2 "Obsession" (1923)
- Gottfried Huppertz – Score for Metropolis (1927)
- Ottorino Respighi – quoted near the end of the second movement of Impressioni Brasiliane (Brazilian Impressions) (1927)
- Arthur Honegger – La Danse des Morts, H. 131 (1938)
- Bernard Hermann quotes it in the main theme for Citizen Kane (1941)
- Ernest Bloch – Suite Symphonique (1944)
- Aram Khachaturian – Symphony No. 2 (1944)
- Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji – Sequentia cyclica super "Dies iræ" ex Missa pro defunctis (1948–49) and nine other works
- Gerald Fried – Opening theme for The Return of Dracula, 1958
- Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – 24 Caprichos de Goya, Op. 195: "XII. No hubo remedio" (plate 24) (1961)
- Eric Ball – "Resurgam" (1950)
- Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony No. 14; Aphorisms, Op. 13 – No. 7, "Dance of Death" (1969)
- George Crumb – Black Angels (1970)
- György Ligeti – Le Grand Macabre (1974–77)
- Leonard Rosenman – the main theme of The Car (1977)
- Stephen Sondheim – Sweeney Todd – quoted in "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and the accompaniment to "Epiphany" (1979)
- Jethro Tull – The instrumental track "Elegy" featured on the band's 12th studio album Stormwatch is based on the melody.
- Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind – Opening theme for The Shining (1980)
- Jerry Goldsmith – The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
- Ennio Morricone – "Penance" from his score for The Mission (1986)
- John Williams – "Old Man Marley" leitmotif from his score for Home Alone (1990)
- Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) soundtrack; "The Bells of Notre Dame" features passages from the first and second stanzas as lyrics.
- Michael Daugherty – Metropolis Symphony 5th movement, "Red Cape Tango"; Dead Elvis for bassoon and chamber ensemble (1993)
- Donald Grantham – Baron Cimetiére's Mambo (2004)
- Thomas Adès – Totentanz (2013)
- Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – Frozen II (soundtrack), "Into the Unknown" (2019)
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- Media related to Dies Irae at Wikimedia Commons
- Works related to Dies Irae at Wikisource
- "Dies Iræ", Franciscan Archive. Includes two Latin versions and a literal English translation.
- Day of Wrath, O Day of Mourning (translation by William Josiah Irons)
- A website cataloging Musical Quotations of the Dies Irae plainchant melody in secular classical music