Translation of Verdi's Dies Irae

A string orchestra with a choir
Amy T. Zielinski / Redferns / Getty Images

After the great composer Gioachino Rossini died in 1868, Giuseppe Verdi had the brilliant idea to piece together a requiem mass composed by a handful of Italy's best composers. The collaboration was titled Messa per Rossini and was set to be performed on the first anniversary of Rossini's death, November 13, 1869. However, nine days before the premiere was set to be performed, conductor Angelo Mariani and the organizing committee abandoned the project completely.

The collaborated mass wouldn't be performed for over 100 years later; its first full-length premiere happened in 1988, thanks to conductor Helmuth Rilling, who performed the piece Stuttgart, Germany.

Verdi had contributed the Libera me to the collaboration and was frustrated that it wouldn't be performed in his lifetime. Still, at the forefront of his mind, he would often return to it to make edits and adjustments. Then in May of 1873, the Italian poet, Alessandro Manzoni, a man whom Giuseppe Verdi greatly admired, passed away. Manzoni's death set Verdi's heart ablaze with the idea of composing his own requiem mass to honor Manzoni's life.  By June that same year, Verdi returned to Paris to begin work on his requiem mass. Less than a year later, Verdi's Requiem was completed and performed on the anniversary of Manzoni's death, May 22, 1874. Verdi himself conducted the mass, and singers whom Verdi worked with in his previous operas filled the soloist roles.

Verdi's Requiem was a success in various theaters throughout Europe, but it failed to gain traction or momentum as the work began to be less and less performed.  It wasn't until a revival in the 1930s, that Verdi's Requiem became standard repertoire for professional choirs and theater companies.

Recommended Listening

There are many great recordings of Verdi's Requiem available today.

Though it would be impossible to list them all, here are a handful of recordings that are exceptionally highly rated:

Latin Text

Dies irae
dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sybilla.
Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
Dies irae
dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sybilla
Quantus tremor est futurus
Quatdo judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus!


Quantus tremor est futurus
Dies irae, dies illa
Quantus tremor est futurus
Dies irae, dies illa
Quantus tremor est futurus
Quantus tremor est futurus
Quando judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus
Cuncta stricte
Cuncta stricte
Stricte discussurus
Cuncta stricte
Cuncta stricte
Stricte discussurus!

English Translation (Literal) 

Day of wrath
that day
Earth will be in ashes:
As David and Sybil witness.
How great the tremors will be
When the judge comes
To examine everything strictly!
Day of wrath
that day
Earth will be in ashes:
As David and Sybil witness.
How great the tremors will be
When the judge comes
To examine everything strictly!
How great the tremors will be
That day is a day of wrath
How great the tremors will be
That day is a day of wrath
How great the tremors will be
How great the tremors will be
When the judge comes
To examine everything strictly!


To examine everything strictly!
To examine everything strictly!
Strictly!
To examine everything strictly!
To examine everything strictly!
Strictly!

English Translation (Edited for Clarity) 

The day of wrath, that day
Will dissolve the world in ashes
As foretold by David and the Sibyl!
How great the tremors there will be,
when the judge comes,
investigating everything strictly!