Scaring Up Some Music For Halloween

Back when I did a weekly radio show, I always loved it when the air date coincided with Halloween. Composing music for macabre themes and horror elements is always a lot of fun and throughout history there are great pieces to bring out the underworld.


On the art music side, one tends to hear Saint-Saens' Dance Macabre which is a perfect piece to set the tone. But there are lots of other great choices too and I thought I'd share a few of the pieces that might fit that bill. One great moment is in Mozart's finale to Don Giovanni where we get to see the gates of hell open up as he is dragged to his doom (the overture can set the tone a bit too). Consider also Liszt's Totentanz or the Mephisto Waltz (and if you had more time, the Faust Symphony) . Mussorgsky's Night on Bare Mountain is a a perfect pick (what I usually did was play Abbado's original orchestration by the composer which was still "fresh" at the time). Rachmaninov's The Isle of The Dead makes for an appropriate gloomy ride as well. For fun, and to lighten the mood, I sometimes added Offenbach's overture to Orpheus in the Underworld. MadDowell's Hexentanz and Henry Cowell's eerie The Banshee added some flair as well.


Here are a few other possible pieces to add to your playlist this weekend:


Auber: La part du diable Overture

Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 4, Op. 70, no. 1 (Ghost)

Bolcom: Ghost Rags

Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette

Puccini: Le Villi

Resphigi: The Ballad of the Gnomes

Strauss, Jr: The Imp, Op. 226

Luzifer Polka, Op. 266

Strauss, Josef: Blithe Spirits, Op. 281

Restless Spirits, Op. 62

Tartini: Violin Sonata in g (Devil's Trill)


There are lots of great scary film scores to consider but I thought I'd wrap up with just a few favorites. First up is Franz Waxman's classic score for The Bride of Frankenstein. Really one of the great early scores in this genre and important for launching his Hollywood career. Bernard Herrmann's music touches upon the dark side of things quite often and Psycho is an obvious choice here. Though I must admit, the macabreness of The Trouble With Harry and its innocuous little score is always a treat each Fall to listen to for me. Jerry Goldsmith is noted for his work in horror scoring and The Omen is a great place to start. His gift was finding a humanizing lyrical theme that grabs the attention a bit and sets the stage for the increasing tension he pulls form the disassembling of those ideas. You can hear that a bit in his work on Poltergeist as well. Another guilty pleasure for me is Philip Sarde's Ghost Story. Here is some interesting orchestral color blended with a Gothic musical atmosphere--and a great love theme idea. Christopher Young is known for his Hellraiser scores, but the real surprise gem is a later score for the intense Drag Me to Hell. It has a great blend of solo violin and rich orchestral color that make this stand out. John Williams music in this genre is sort of limited to familiar scores like his work in Jaws, or Harry Potter (on the lighter side), but he could craft some creepy music as well. Take a listen to Images for the most avantgarde of his scores. Close Encounters has some of this coupled with more traditional scoring. And there is also his Dracula score with its gorgeous love theme (a great side score for Patrick Doyle's Frankenstein!), though I must admit I really like his intense music for The Fury which has been a personal favorite for this time of year.


I've overlooked a lot of great "holiday" music here but I thought it would be fun to take a break from reviewing new music to luxuriate in the many creative expressions that can enhance your Halloween endeavors. And I didn't even begin to scratch the surface of all those great electronic Carpenter scores from the 1980s!


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