Your Sunday Hymn: Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)

A powerful hymn for a lazy Sunday in July – but perhaps apropos in the wake of the ObamaCare ruling earlier this month.

“Dies lrae” is a Latin poem on the subject of the Last Judgment. Attributed to a Franciscan monk named Tomaso de Celante (1190, c. 1255), the complete poem contains 18 rhymed stanzas. (An unknown author later added the “Pie Jesu” couplet and the “Amen.”) Little did this Franciscan know that his colorful poem would provide a springboard for some of the most dramatic musical works ever written.

Z. Randall Stroope published his exceptional setting of Dies Irae in 2006 primarily for male voices but I heard it for the first time sung by a high school women’s choir.

I can’t decide if I like it better sung by male or female voices:

The Iowa Statesmen performed this at their 2012 spring concert:

KC Women’s Honor Choir 2009:


Dies irae, dies ilia Quando iudex est venturus
[dee-ehs ee-reh, dee-ehs ee-lahJ [kwahn-daw yoo-dex ehst vehn-too-roos]
Day of wrath, day that will when the judge comes

Solvet saeclum in favilla, Cuncta stricte discussurus!
[sohl-veht seh-kloom een fah-vee-lahJ [koongk-tah stree-kteh dee-skoo-soo-roos]
Dissolve the world into burning coals, To strictly sentence all.

Teste David cum sibylla. Pie ]esu Domine,
[teh-steh dah-veed koom see-bee-lahJ [pee-eh yeh-soo daw-mee-neh]
As David prophesied with the Sibyl.* Merciful Lord]esus,

Quantus tremor est futurus, dona eis requiem.
[kwahn-toos treh-mawr ehst foo-too-roosJ [daw-nah eh-ees reh-kwee-ehm]
How great trembling there will be, Grant them rest.

* “Sibyl” or “Sybilla” was a title given to the priestess of the Oracle. She sat on the Sybilline Rock, breathing vapors and eating laurel leaves, and making predictions.

This setting of Dies lrae isolates a portion of the “Dies lrae” text, and juxtaposes driving, accentuated rhythms with towers of full sonorities. The piano writing provides an agitating “undercurrent” in the opening and closing sections. The composer has placed the voices in what he aptly calls the “resonance pockets” of the treble voice, creating powerful “sonic fireworks” appropriate to the drama of this text.

Z. Randall Stroope conducts choirs and orchestras in the United States, Canada, and abroad on a regular basis. He is the Artistic Director of annual festivals in England and eastern Europe. His principal composition teachers were Norman Q. Lockwood and Cecil Effinger, both students of Nadia Boulanger. Of the eleven compact discs he has recorded, two (Passages, Volume I and Volume II) are exclusively his own works. See “Passages Vol II: The Choral Music of Z. Randall Stroope” for a complete list

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