Whether you’re getting ready for Halloween, or just enjoying a crisp fall evening, classical music makes the perfect soundtrack to an eerie night.
There are perennial Halloween classical favorites, and we enjoy Night on Bald Mountain and Funeral March of the Marionette as much as anyone. But, we wanted to point out some lesser-known creepy and even downright terrifying pieces.
Delia Derbyshire: Pot Au Feu
Electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire’s time in the BBC Radiophonic lab produced famous horror sounds, including the performance of the theme song to tv classic Dr Who. Peter Marsh called Pot Au Feu ”angular robot jazz crammed with incident.”
Antonín Dvořák: The Noon Witch
Slavic mythology’s maternal counterpart of the Erlkonig story is portrayed as a musical narrative. Don’t be fooled by the cheerful opening. Once the clock strikes twelve, the noon witch is on her way for naughty boys and girls.
Julia Wolfe: Big Beautiful Dark And Scary
2016 MacArthur fellow Julia Wolfe’s piece is a static soundscape of impending doom.
Arnold Schoenberg: Erwartung
The libretto, by Maria Pappenheim, for this half hour long monologue for solo soprano reaches into the depths of a troubled soul. Post WWI, Europe (and thus the Second Viennese School) had begun to understand trauma with great care, and this piece stands as an extended portrayal of a specific traumatic event.
Wu Fei: If I Was A Batman Queen
Nashville-based Wu Fei’s concerto for guzheng and chamber orchestra was inspired by her daughter’s first Halloween costume.
Felix Mendelssohn: Die erste Walpurgisnacht
Though it sounds an awful lot like Halloween, Walpurgis Night is on the eve of the Feast of St. Walpurga – the last day of April rather than October. Mendelssohn spent 13 years setting Goethe’s poem Die erste Walpurgisnacht to music as an oratorio. In the piece, Druids scare away rule-setting Christians with a ghostly masquerade.
Joan Tower: Night Field
Cold, windy darkness over a wheat field is the scene Joan Tower describes for this piece, but it could easily be the setting of a horror film.
George Frederic Handel: Israel in Egypt, Plague of Flies and Locusts
What really makes this is the sweeping strings with the fairly consonant chorus in crisp English – describing exactly what these plagues are going to entail. You can even see a resting orchestra member smile with delight at the energy in this clip.
Errollyn Wallen: Dervish
This isn’t the gust of wind that the title suggests. It’s more gloomy than whirling as Errollyn Wallen leaves the tonality somewhere between Webern and Tavener.
George Crumb: Vox Balenae
The piece may be meant to evoke whale sounds, but between the black masks and the blue light meant to accompany every performance, it’s hard to get past a feeling of unease.
Sofia Gubaidulina: Silenzio
Prolongation and distortion are incredibly effective at disorienting a listener. Gubaidulina makes use of both in this set of 18 short pieces.
Béla Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, mvt. 2
While it’s the third movement of Bartok’s piece that appears in Stanley Kubrick thriller The Shining, this allegro movement has some serious intensity as well. It’s not an odd meter, but the transition from 2/4 to 3/8 is so subtle near the end that takes the listener off balance just enough to disturb them.
Don’t miss the rebroadcast of 91Classical’s Halloween special The Haunted Hour at 8pm on Halloween night.