ISN’T THERE ANY OTHER HALLOWEEN MUSIC BESIDES “THRILLER”?
By Amy Cassaniti
Yes. Yes. A hundred times yes. I’m glad you asked. In the last 70 years, Halloween has become second only to Christmas in popularity. From yard decorations, to parties, to food, to costumes, there is something for everyone to enjoy. But you are a classically trained musician. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” even Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” get all the love at Halloween, but how does that help you? No worries. Here are six of the most iconic classical music compositions associated with Halloween.
“Marche Funebre” from Piano Sonata Number 2 by Frederic Chopin. This selection is the real deal. It is often played at funerals – even Chopin had this selection played at his own funeral. For those of a certain age, you may remember the opening bars as the melody for the child’s lyric “pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you.” Listen and sing along with your funeral march…
“Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Unlike the other selections on this list, the “Toccata” is written for just one instrument – the organ. However, due to its frequent use in early horror films, especially silent films which had to have their own live soundtracks, the opening bars of the “Toccata” instantly create a spooky and sinister mood even without a full orchestra behind it.
“In the Hall of the Mountain King” from the drama, Peer Gynt, music by Edvard Greig. In a dream sequence, Peer Gynt imagines a great crowd of troll courtiers, gnomes and goblins. The trolls, gnomes, and goblins are immersed in a great dance and procession. With the speeding tempo, the listener becomes increasingly anxious easily believing that the great procession may be on its way to way to find him!
“Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. Poor Mussorgsky. His original composition is rarely heard today. The adaptation you are most likely to hear is from the 1940 Walt Disney film Fantasia, famous for creating visual imagery to accompany classical music pieces. For the film, Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov arranged Mussorgsky work to better fit with the animation.
The scare factor is crucial to Halloween, but so is whimsical delight. “Funeral March of a Marionette” by Charles-François Gounod may best be remembered as the intro music for Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show which ran from 1955-1965. This music may be the lightest and happiest funeral music you will ever hear!
“Danse Macabre” by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns. Maybe the most recognizably sinister Halloween music on the list. The composition was inspired by a French legend that says that Death appears at midnight on Halloween to call the dead from their graves to dance for him. Death plays the violin (or fiddle) while skeletons dance until dawn before returning yet again to their graves for another year.
So, enjoy! Classical composers have been scaring and terrorizing audiences for centuries and that’s even before a discussion about their hairstyles…