ODAY I WAS RUNNING LATE for a votive requiem Mass in the Extraordinary Form for an extraordinary man. I entered to a familiar tune, which happens to be the same as the Canticles from the Easter Vigil Mass from just a few weeks ago. The small choir finished the tract and began the sequence – Dies Irae.
I hope most readers have heard of this piece of music. It is a 13th century hymn in 18, 19 or 20 stanzas, depending how you count them. Sometimes it is sung alternating each verse between two choirs. Every second verse sounds a little like an echo as the tune is repeated.
There are three tunes and the whole pattern is sung three times like this: A A B B C C A A B B C C A A B B C then the last three sections of two lines each bringing the whole to a close.
It is dramatic, sonorous, awesome, and it’s not just the liturgical enthusiasts who think so. Tom Allen traces the influence of the opening tune on music from the Classical period right through to modern movie scores at CBC Music
He gets a few things wrong. The dove dictating to Pope St Gregory the Great is definitely figurative and Gregorian Chant is not composed by Pope Gregory but standardized from music that was already in existence, and, of course, Star Wars is not set in the future but “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. Nevertheless it is a lot of fun to watch.
Now you too will be hearing Dies Irae in just about everything!