Music can serve several purposes but when combined with the narrative and visual components of a movie, it can have an overwhelmingly emotional yet subtle impact on us.
From psychological horrors like “The Shining” to family friendly animations like “The Lion King,“ this age old melody does just that. The musical sequence of four notes from the “Dies Irae,” or “day of wrath,” a 13th century Gregorian requiem, or Catholic mass traditionally sung at funerals, has been recycled and reused throughout numerous movies for centuries.
The theme is a popular tune that continues to appear within the world of cinema. Just like how upbeat sing along songs are commonly used in feel good kid movies, the four note melody of the “dies irae” has been commonly used during dramatic or scary cinematic moments to increase tensions and give an eerie feeling.
But why is that so? How did this simple four note riff manage to become a common motif within cinema and how does it manage to instill a feeling of dread or anxiety into us? Watch the video above from Vox as Berklee College of Music professor Alex Ludwig further details why the melody is so popular within cinema and why it works the way it does.