Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Trocmé-Latter, Daniel. “A Disney Requiem?: Iterations of the ‘Dies Irae’ in the Score to The Lion King (1994).” Music and the Moving Image 15 (Spring 2022): 38-66.

In his score for The Lion King (1994), Hans Zimmer fully integrates the Dies irae melody, giving it structural importance to the film’s narrative and circle-of-life theme. By doing so, Zimmer reclaims some of the spiritual cachet of the melody against simplistic uses of the melody in other film scores. As quotations of Dies irae became popular in nineteenth- and twentieth-century concert music, the chant began to lose its sacred and medieval associations in favor of secular connotations of death. This trend continued as film composers, including Hans Zimmer, used the Dies irae motif in a similar manner, leading to a simplistic association between the motif and death, menace, or creepiness. Zimmer’s use of Dies irae in The Lion King is distinctive in its pervasive and varied use throughout the score as well as its impact on the film’s spiritual symbolism. There are two scenes in which the obvious Dies irae death motif is evoked: first when Scar orders the hyenas to kill young Simba after the stampede, and second during the climax when adult Simba fights Scar to reclaim the throne. Of greater importance however are the approximately forty separate occurrences of the exact or modified chant melody that occur throughout the score. Of the seven principal themes, three contain the Dies irae motif in some form. These three themes are related to Mufasa, his spiritual presence after his death, and his seat of power at Pride Rock. Significantly, the Dies irae motif in these themes is heard well before Mufasa’s death in scenes setting up Simba’s relationship with his father and the burden of power. Zimmer also borrows Mozart’s Eucharistic hymn Ave verum corpus, K. 618, in three pivotal scenes related to Mufasa’s death and Simba’s painful memory of it, further supporting the religiosity of the film’s themes and imagery. Thus, Zimmer’s use of Dies irae in The Lion King functions as part of the spiritual aspects of the film, transcending the chant’s common secular associations.

Works: Hans Zimmer: score to The Lion King (38, 46-56), score to Crimson Tide (45), score to The Rock (45-46), score to The Road to El Dorado (45), score to The Ring (46), score to The Da Vinci Code (46); Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (40); Liszt: Totentanz (40); Rachmaninoff: Isle of the Dead (40-41); Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind: score to The Shining (42); Danny Elfman: score to The Nightmare Before Christmas (42); Bernard Herrmann: score to Citizen Kane (42); Dimitri Tiomkin: score to It’s A Wonderful Life (42); John Williams: score to Star Wars (42)

Sources: attributed to Thomas of Celano: Dies irae (38-55); Mozart: Ave verum corpus, K. 618 (54-56)

Index Classifications: 1800s, 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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