Dec 31

Verdi – Requiem – Dies irae (Extrait)


Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901

I stumbled upon this tremendous video of Verdi’s Requiem earlier today and felt inspired by its stirring tones to share with you both the video and some background to this terrifying piece of music.

Verdi : Requiem – Dies irae (Extract)
Video sent by Quarouble
“Dies Irae” – from Verdi’s Requiem
performed by the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado.

I’m sure everyone knows the music of the “Dies Irae”, featured here, as it has been used for dramatic effect in many films and commercials over the years. But what’s the story behind this nightmare-conjuring thriller music?


Verdi (1813-1901) is famous of course for writing operas – his most famous offerings are probably Aida, Rigoletto and Otello. Verdi spent a good deal of his life writing dramatic music for the theatre, but later in his life he felt the urge to branch out into different genres. He first experimented with writing requiem music when his friend and guide Rossini died in the 1860s and he was moved to organise a huge collaborative composition with 11 composers to mark Rossini’s death. The work was never performed. Disappointed but not disillusioned, Verdi, who had written the Requiem’s final movement, was pleased enough with his work to keep tinkering at it for a while, when out of the blue another death occurred – Alessandro Manzoni.

Manzoni, a poet and strong cultural figure in Italy, was greatly revered by Verdi. His death in 1873 was good timing (well, not for him), as Verdi had the workings of the Rossini Requiem which, with only a little rewriting, became Manzoni’s Requiem, and all Verdi’s own work this time. The Requiem was premiered on the 1st anniversary of Manzoni’s death, in Milan and was an instant success, despite its gloomy text:

Day of wrath and doom impending,
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending
Heaven and earth in ashes ending
Day of wrath and doom impending

Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from heaven the judge descendeth
On whose sentence all dependeth.

(English Translation)

Verdi used a big sound – four bassoons and four trumpets, three flutes and an ophicleide, a chorus and four soloists which resound together with an incredible FFFF marking in places. The “Dies Irae” is made up of nine sections, which you can clearly see on this video. Each section has its own melodic ideas, but they are always played together seamlessly to make an impressive and profound performance.

You’ve probably heard the music in countless films, TV programmes and commercials. It’s one of the most famous pieces of music around, but most people wouldn’t be able to name it! If you’re interested in reading more about Verdi, here are some links:


And why not treat yourself to a CD of the complete work:


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