You’ve opened the carefully crafted packaging of your Damson product and it’s sitting in your hands, waiting to be used.
The anticipation is real.
But which piece of music is suitably epic to be chosen as your first listen?
This is a question we’ve thought long and hard about, and our best answer is…
'Dies Irae', or 'Day of Wrath'. A piece of Gregorian Chant composed at some point between 1100 and 1290 AD.
Why on earth would I want to listen to that, you ask?
Just bear with us, because as you’ll see this bad boy is used in the most epic tunes of all time from the end of humanity to the destruction of the Death Star, some monks a thousand years ago knew the score.
Why is this piece of music so epic?
It is so old that no one knows exactly who composed it.
It's nearly a thousand years old, maybe older, and it's still going strong.
It has never faded away. Since its composition its melody has been used in hundreds of pieces of music, from classical pieces to opera to film scenes to video game scores.
(More on the last two later.)
It describes the day of judgement, when God returns to earth to judge all souls.
This is a picture of that event in progress.
See the epicness?
See the trumpet-playing angels flying around, summoning all living souls for judgement with their melodies?
See the worthy souls ascending to heaven while the unworthy are cast into the pits of eternal damnation by Satan’s minions?
See God surveying the carnage from his throne in the clouds, surrounded by the blessed and the saved?
Imagine what that must sound like.
Its melody pops up time and time again, everywhere. It is prevalent in classical music through the ages, and made its way into the modern era via tons of film and video game scores; including it in your score is something of a rite of passage for film and game composers.
This is the part of the melody in question:
When it is used it often signifies death, hardship, tribulation and other equally epic things.
See a few of the places it’s been used for an indication into just how epic it really is:
- In Holst's symphony for Saturn, the bringer of old age. There’s no arguing when a God-planet brings you old age: you may as well just climb into your coffin there and then.
- In the Faust opera: the operatic rendition of the famous story of someone selling their soul to the devil (i.e. the myth that underpins all of blues and rock music)
- In various other classical pieces with epic themes such as "divine punishment", "dances of death", and "obsession"
- In Mozart’s Requiem Mass. Mozart knew all about epic: his life would have been comparable to members of the 27 club if he’d been alive more recently
- In Sweeney Todd: the story of a maniacal barber who combines a flair for gentlemanly grooming with a penchant for murder
- In the opening theme of The Shining: one of the most famous and harrowing horror films ever
- In Final Fantasy IX: a title considered by many to be the best game from the best game series ever
- In Lord of the Rings, many times: epic films telling the epic story of the battle of good over pure evil in Middle Earth
- In The Matrix: the story of humanity’s oppression, struggle, and later victory of machinery that wants to enslave us in a virtual reality.
- In STAR WARS: the most epic film series ever, which needs no introduction.
Note: in all of these films, it's at an epic and emotionally wrenching scene.
So in short, the Dies Irae riff has no time for anything that isn't epic.
The words would not be out of place in the rowdiest death metal.
Here are some of the verses of Dies Irae: read them and quake in your boots.
These were originally sung in Latin, too – a language inextricably linked to epic things:
We wouldn’t be surprised if we read these in the lyrics booklet for the heaviest metal the metal scene has to offer.
All of the people Dies Irae is attributed to led epic lives.
As we mentioned, the piece is so old that scholars aren’t exactly sure who composed it.
The strongest candidates for composing are Thomas of Celano and Latino Malabranca Orsini. Thomas was personal friends with and partial biographer of Saint Francis of Assisi - "one of the most venerated religious figures in history" – and Latino was the nephew of a Pope and was briefly kidnapped while the next pope was being decided.
The less likely possibilities for composing the piece were Pope Gregory I, St Bernard of Clairvaux, and St Bonaventure. As well as the intrinsic epicness of being a pope, Gregory implemented a policy of Papal supremacy which gave him "full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered". Not someone to mess with, then.
St Bernard of Clairvaux is still revered today and his symbol is a Devil on a chain, presumably to symbolise his power. St Bonaventure meanwhile holds the humble accolade of being regarded as “one of the greatest philosophers of the middle ages”.
Dies Irae has been used in hundreds of other compositions throughout history.
The answer to our original question, then –
what is the most epic possible thing to listen to on your new Damson product?