The end of days

John Martin’s terrifying vision of the apocalypse has several musical equivalents. Apart from the many settings of the Requiem Mass’s Dies irae (think Berlioz, think Verdi), there are two famous musical Judgement Days that are the work of composers very much associated with Vienna: Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (Symphony No. 2 in c) and Franz Schmidt’s The Book with Seven Seals.

While Mahler doesn’t use any Biblical or liturgical texts – his words are from the Wunderhorn collection of folk poetry, the German poet Friedrich Klopstock’s poem Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection) and by the composer himself – Schmidt (very bravely) takes on the seven seals of the Book of Revelations.

Here’s the Mahler as the Tuba Mirum (the trumpet of death) rings out to summon the living and the dead before the Great Judge…

…and here’s the Schmidt at the moment when the sixth seal is broken: the moon turns to blood, the sea overflows, the stars fall from the sky and the sun goes black (almost the perfect aural equivalent of John Martin’s painting):

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