The Fascinating History of a Latin Death Hymn You’ve Heard Many Times Without Knowing It

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
May 8 2014 5:41 PM

The Fascinating History of a Latin Death Hymn You’ve Heard Many Times Without Knowing It

There’s a musical piece you’ve likely heard many times before—but unless you have a particularly trained ear and are also hip to the catalog of Medieval Latin hymns, you probably haven’t noticed it. It’s a musical pattern from “Dies Irae,” a haunting chant for the dead, and CBC Radio host Tom Allen has put together an impressive video history of the work.

Looping effortlessly through the halls of the Bishop Strachan School in Toronto in a single six-minute take, Allen guides us through the song’s various appearances in Western music from the 19th century to the present. He’s aided by both live musicians and clips from several movies that have incorporated the composition into their film scores, including The Exorcist and It’s a Wonderful Life. (It should be noted that the latter was released in 1946, not 1942 as Allen says in the video.)

Advertisement

It’s an interesting history lesson, and perhaps the next time you’re watching a big budget movie with a dramatic death scene, you’ll be able to pick out the traces of “Dies Irae” as well as Allen can.

(Via A.V. Club.)

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

Move Aside, Oxford Comma, the New Battle Is Over Single or Double Quotes

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Ben Bradlee’s Fascinating Relationship With JFK

Culturebox

The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here

I feel like a kid in some kind of store.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 11:57 AM Why Wasn't the WHO Ready for Ebola?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 22 2014 11:36 AM Casting the Role of Scarlett O'Hara Was Really, Really Frustrating
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 22 2014 11:04 AM Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 22 2014 10:29 AM Apple TV Could Still Work Here’s how Apple can fix its living-room product.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 22 2014 11:30 AM Where Does Ebola Hide? My nerve-wracking research with shrieking bats.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.