Friday, October 31, 2008

What are the scariest pieces of classical music?

That's the question for today, since this Music Friday happens to fall on Halloween.

Everyone knows Saint-Saens's (I don't do accents) Danse Macabre:

And don't you love Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain?

But have you heard the 2nd movement (Scherzo) of Bruckner's 9th Symphony, which starts out quietly creeping along but then suddenly bursts out into the classical equivalent of heavy metal?

(In case you couldn't tell, the conductor is Leonard Bernstein.)

And for absolutely bleak despair mixed with terror, nothing beats Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet, which he originally intended to serve as his own suicide note! And not a very subtle one, at that. (Fortunately, the only part of this plan he carried out was the music; he died of cancer many years later.)

1st and 2nd movements (it first gets scary at the beginning of the 2nd movement -- around 4:45):

(This performance is by Students of the Royal Academy of Music in London: Alexandra Hjortswang, Beatrice Scaldini, Nicola Grant, Madeleine Ridd.)

3rd movement:

4th and 5th movements (notice the lovely -- though still bleak -- way the end of the last movements recalls the beginning of the first movement):

Had enough???

If not, then feel free to suggest some more in the comments!

UPDATE: See the comments on the post you're reading now and also the 60-odd comments on this other post for suggestions.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

This isn't classical, but I heard it on my classical station and the announcer called it the scariest music he knew: Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack for "The Omen".

I think the taste of this generation of classical music listeners -- judging from myself and my station's playlist -- runs to the soothing and lyrical. We use classical music as a way to decompress in the evening or during a commute. (I mean that literally, in the sense of lowering blood pressure.) When I hear bombastic nineteenth-century music on the radio, I usually turn it off. That's what they had to listen to before they had rock'n'roll (as you imply). Our 24-hour classical station has a dinnertime show called "Banquet Music," and a later evening show called "Night Air" that emphasizes people like Vaughan Williams, Delius, Sibelius, Hovhaness, Satie, Corelli, and Debussy.

Tomorrow night the Texas Early Music Project is playing "Les Plaisirs de Versaille," an evening of the lighter side of French baroque -- could there be anything lighter? -- and I'm going.

dick said...

You might consider Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor which is played in most of the old horror movies.

Rick Lee said...

Dick beat me to "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor". I used to blast that on the stereo when kids were walking up to the house for Trick or Treat and I've seen kids turn and run away when it started.

dbp said...

How about the opening and closing to Carmina Burana?

dbp said...

Also, along the theme taken up by RLC of movie music, the theme to "Rosemary's Baby" is really creepy.

Fred said...

There is no piece of classical music I've found more unsettling than Ives' "The Gong on the Hook & Ladder." I know it's supposed to be a sonic portrait of a small town, New England 4th of July parade, but it sounds instead like the Hellmouth has just opened underneath me.

Albatross said...

The final (fifth) movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique was composed to evoke a dream of a witches' dance. It's pretty spooky.

Anonymous said...

Another obvious but good one is Bernard Hermann's Psycho Theme.

Chris said...

Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. The second movement is the famous one, since it was used in some horror movie (The Shining?), but I think the fugue (last movement?) is really creepy. Also, Lutoslawski's cello concerto has its creepy moments.

ferd.berfel said...

Ann: this is the best post I've read in quite a while. I'm a big fan of classical music, and thought you'd be interested in this CD collection of scary classical music I have from back in 1989. Suprisingly, it's still available:
(Cut & Paste to your URL box)
Here's a more contemporary CD of Scary movie music - one of my favorites:
Love you...

Kristina said...

Oh, I have that CD that Ferd mentioned too. It's called Fright Night: Music That Goes Bump in the Night, for those of you that don't want to cut and paste.
It has most of the songs people mentioned (that are actual classical music), plus some great ones like Mars, from The Planets, and Witch's Ride, from Hansel and Gretel.
I'm going to go listen to it now. Seems appropriate.

Kristina said...

I got excited about listening to the music, and forgot to write that my two favorite previously unmentioned pieces are Funeral March of a Marionette and Ride of the Valkyries. You just can't beat Wagner for drama.

Anonymous said...

In the hall of the mountain king

Unknown said...

When I was in high school, I put on Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire on a loop and blasted it over a boombox for trick-or-treaters. I didn't get a lot of people willing to come to the door that evening, but I'm not sure if it was because the kids found it scary (as opposed to finding it really annoying.)

Anonymous said...

Stravinsky - The rite of spring Sacrificial Dance

Great for imagining monsters

Anonymous said...

One of the Nazi extermination camps had a prisoner band which was forced to greet new prisoners with a thing called the "Death Tango." I never have heard it and I hope I never do.

Anonymous said...

While my wife was going through her long, drawn-out dying-of-MS process, she became increasingly aphasic. I usually left the radio on when I was off working so she'd have company. One time I came back into the room and found her giggling. Charles River Syndicate tried to play Schubert's Unfinished but a technical casualty prevented them from getting through the performance. Her weakened intellect could still see the irony. I mention this because anyone not vaguely disturbed by the quavering strings at the opening lack's imagination.

D-minor Tocatta & Fugue: Are readers more empathic to Bach's big pipe organ original, or Stokowski's Fantasia orchestration? I feel strongly both ways.

Mr. Cohen stepped outside the classical realm, so having already introduced big pipe organs I'll mention the first few bars of the Weber's Overture from Phantom of the Opera

Anonymous said...

Elgar's Cello Concerto
Bruch's Shelomo
Blochs's Kol Nidre