To get in the mood for Halloween, we've compiled a list of our top 5 spookiest pieces. And for some Halloween treats, don't forget to stop by the Front Desk for some candy at your next lesson!
5. Toccata and Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach
Chances are you’ve heard this piece in a classic horror movie or two, as it is often associated with evoking themes of horror and villainy. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue was not published until many years after his death in 1833, thanks to the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn, a famous composer of the early 1800s. The piece became popular very quickly and is now probably one of the most famous organ works ever composed.
4. Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
Written for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, this piece sets the scene of a witches’ sabbath occurring on St. Johns Eve. Modest Mussorgsky, a Russian composer of the 1800s, completed the work on that very night (St. Johns Eve) in June of 1867. While the piece is quite well-known today, Mussorgsky had a difficult time convincing his peers and mentors of his day that this work was worth performing. The piece’s lasting fame came long after his death from composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral version, which was featured in Walt Disney’s film, Fantasia (1940). For a comparison of the two arrangements, check out Rimsky-Korsakov's version here.
3. Die Erlkönig by Franz Schubert
This four-minute song for solo voice and piano brings to life a spooky poem by the famous German poet and author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem tells the story of a father and son who are confronted by an evil spirit called the "Erlking" while riding through the forest on horseback. The son cries out to the father telling him that he sees and hears the Erlking. The father tries to comfort him, reassuring him that it must simply be the rustling of leaves or some other natural sound. How sad the father is to find out that he is wrong as the child is attacked and killed by the Erlking! The lyrics and translation to the piece can be found here.
2. The Noon-Day Witch by Antonín Dvořák
Taking great interest in traditional Bohemian fairy tales, Anton Dvorak found inspiration for The Noon-Day Witch from folk ballads by Karel Jaromír Erben. "The Noon Day Witch" tells the story of a mother who warns her son to behave or else a witch will come to get him. One day the witch appears! The mother grabs her son and runs as they are being chased by the witch. The mother eventually passes out, and when the father returns home, he finds that the son has been inadvertently smothered to death by his unconscious wife. Dvořák certainly set the tone for this dark tale. Want more spooky Dvořák? Check out The Water Goblin and The Golden-Spinning Wheel.
1. Witches’ Sabbath from Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz
The “Witches’ Sabbath” is the 5th and final movement of Berlioz’s adventurous, Symphonie Fantastique. In his program notes about this movement, Berlioz wrote that “he sees himself at a witches’ sabbath [or meeting of witches], in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts...it is...no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque.” This musical depiction of the witches’ dance certainly makes for a spooky piece!