October 31, 2022, 12:31 | Updated: October 31, 2022, 4:03 PM
Choose your poison from these 20 frightening pieces of classical music, from Saint-Saëns to John Williams…
Why do some classical music scare us? Is it loud noises, scary sounds or the terrifying stories that music can tell?
This Halloween, find out which composers and tracks make us quiver with fear.
Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King
Grieg’s tension-making masterpiece was meant to evoke a cave full of trolls, gnomes, and goblins. Grieg himself wasn’t a huge fan, however; he once said, “For the Hall of the Mountain King, I wrote something that stinks so much of cow dung, ultra-Norwegianism and ‘self-sufficiency’ that I can’t stand it. hear, although I hope the irony will be felt.
Saint-Saens – Danse Macabre
As its title suggests, this little dark dance by Camille Saint-Saëns has everything to give the listener chills. The piece tells the story of Death (a violinist, naturally) raising the dead from their graves on Halloween and dancing to his sinister tune.
Read more: The flautist performs ‘Danse Macabre’ in a spooky organ duet with herself
John Williams – Jaws
It doesn’t seem logical that just two notes could cause such a feeling, but John Williams managed it. His Spielberg soundtrack Jaws keeping people out of the sea since 1975.
Read more: Spielberg told John Williams “you can’t be serious!” when he first heard the Jaws theme
Mussorgsky – A Night on the Naked Mountain
Start life like a symphonic poem called The night of Saint-Jean on Mont ChauveMussorgsky’s most famous work was made more famous when it was revised by Rimsky-Korsakov and then included in Disney’s soundtrack Fancy. Whatever its incarnation, it is a chilling masterpiece.
Maurice Jarre – Ghost
This one is perhaps more creepy and supernatural than downright scary, but nonetheless, Maurice Jarre’s score for Phantom still worth listening to.
Berlioz – Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath from Symphonie Fantastique
Hector Berlioz uses a range of orchestral effects to create the scene of a gathering of witches – violins using the backs of their bows to create bubbling cauldron sounds, the sound of a funeral bell and musical bursts of laughter.
Bernard Hermann – Psycho
As Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane pulls up to the Bates Motel, what looks like it was set up as a romantic drama quickly turns into Hitchcock’s groundbreaking 1960s horror thriller. It features Bernard Herrmann’s famous slasher string pattern, which has become a cliché of cinematic horror.
JS Bach – Toccata and Fugue in D minor
It’s one of the biggies when it comes to scary music. JS Bach’s thundering Toccata and Fugue in D minor has been used in classic horror movies like The black Cat, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydeand even in Doctor Who.
Read more: A solo viola plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with monumental virtuosity
Jerry Goldsmith – The Twilight Zone
The twilight zone now looks like an old-fashioned ghost festival, but when it came to scoring the 1982 film version of the popular TV show, Jerry Goldsmith stepped in to make it as spooky as possible.
Carl Orff – ‘O Fortuna’ (Carmina Burana)
When it comes to pure fury, few can match Carl Orff. The majestic opening of ‘O Fortuna’ by Carmina Burana is soon replaced by intense, pulsating choral work, which essentially erupts into a full orchestral blaze.
Read more: What are the lyrics to ‘O Fortuna’ by Carmina Burana?
Paul Dukas – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Another classic thanks to the influence of a certain Walt Disney, Dukas’ mischievous theme will forever be associated with images of Mickey Mouse attempting to carve up an army of possessed mops.
Verdi – ‘Dies Irae’ (Requiem)
When it comes to chilling music, it’s hard to beat Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ or ‘Day of Wrath’. by Verdi Requiem is an epic achievement in every way, but this depiction of Judgment Day is quite unsettling. Go strong.
Read more: What are the lyrics and translation of Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ – and in which films have I heard it?
It’s probably safe to say that being dragged into the depths of hell is a scary situation. But few could make it as terrifying as Mozart manages to do, by Don Giovanni. Listen to the resounding bass of the Commendatore as he announces his arrival. Ouch!
Mahler – Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”
There are two moments in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (dubbed “Resurrection”) where the composer attempted to capture the terror and pain of death in a single musical gesture, which has become known as ” Cry of Death”. You can judge for yourself if it works or not, but we advise you to sit down while you listen…
Liszt was obsessed with all things macabre and explored it frequently in his work. His Mephisto Waltz, thoughts of the dead and Gloomy Gondola all flirt with the notion of death and the afterlife. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is instantly recognizable by its jarring, menacing opening notes in orchestra and piano, which sets the stage for 15 heart-pounding minutes of virtuoso, otherworldly piano music.
Bartók – Dances from Transylvania
Bartók was inspired to write his Sonatina in 1915 after collecting folk tunes in Romania, home to the legendary vampire stronghold, Transylvania. He named the suites the Transylvania dances when he arranged them for orchestra.
It’s 1913 and Count Dracula arrives from Transylvania, ready to descend on Mina Van Helsing and drink her blood. Horror, intrigue and suspense – so who better to compose the film’s soundtrack than film music genius John Williams?
Rachmaninoff – Island of the Dead
A plaintive oboe and dark clarinets depict the sounds of Charon’s oars crossing the waters of the Styx River in the solemn opening phrases of Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem. The music transports our immortal souls to the far reaches of the underworld in this chilling piece.
An adaptation of Dracula’s tale, and inspired by the film Nosferatus, Copland finished Grohg around 1925. The music uses jazzy syncopations and cheerful melodies with sinister undertones to add to the feeling of unease. Copland used this ballet as inspiration for his later Dance Symphony.
Wagner – Ride of the Valkyries
This battle cry is actually quite a triumphant event in Wagner’s original staging. ring cyclebut thanks to the piece used for the soundtrack of helicopters flying through war-torn Vietnam in Francis Ford Coppola Revelation nowit’s safe to say this is officially a scary play.