Eight Pieces Based on the Dies Irae

Last week, we explored two pieces which bookend the musical output of Sergei Rachmaninov- the First Symphony, which Rachmaninov wrote at the age of 22, and the Symphonic Dances, his “last spark,” completed in 1940. The Dies irae, the ancient chant of the dead, emerges as a prominent presence in both works. It’s a motive that returns throughout Rachmaninov’s music with haunting regularity. We hear it in The Isle of the Dead, The Bells, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, where it …

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Rachel Barton Pine Plays “Danse macabre”

The violin’s reputation as “the Devil’s instrument” goes back at least as far as the Renaissance, where paintings such as Pieter Bruegel’s 1562 The Triumph of Death, linked the violin to death and the depravity of dance. The “Devil’s Trill” Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770) comes with a story in which the composer heard the Devil playing the Sonata in a dream. Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia tells a similar story. The 2013 film, The Devil’s …

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New Release: Montreal Symphony’s “Danse Macabre” Celebrates the Supernatural

Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony have released a spooky new album on the Decca label just in time for Halloween. Danse Macabre features some well-known favorites as well as some surprises. Paul Dukas’ colorful tone poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is full of sparkling wizardry and adventure. This passage must have influenced John Williams’ film score for Star Wars. Also included is Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. (I offered a few thoughts on this ghoulish piece along with …

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